David Wagoner Biography

(Poet, Novelist, Professor)

Birthday: June 5, 1926 (Gemini)

Born In: Massillon, Ohio

David Wagoner is one of the prolific writers amongst the list of modern American literary scholars. Though media glare and attention has always eluded Wagoner, in comparison to his contemporaries, his work has been received with much appreciation and respect. Often compared to his early mentor, Theodore Roethke, Wagoner is best known for his insightful writing and evocative poems, the most notable of which are ‘Staying Alive’ and ‘Lost.’ Though majorly famous as a poet, he is also a skilled novelist with ten popular novels to his name. Born in Ohio and raised in Indiana, the young boy developed an early interest in literature and started writing by the time he was ten. Bright and creative, he was also an amateur magician and interested in the theatre. He served in the United States Navy for a while before graduating from the Pennsylvania State University. He proceeded to earn his M.A. in English from the Indiana University before embarking on an academic career. His deep love for poetry manifested itself with the publication of ‘Dry Sun, Dry Wind’, the first one of his many collections of poetry. He went on to publish two novels in quick succession while also focusing on establishing himself in his teaching career. By the mid-1960s he had successfully established himself as both a much respected teacher and an insightful poet. Wagoner is the recipient of numerous prestigious literary awards including two Pushcart Prizes and the Academy of Arts and Letters Award.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: David Russell Wagoner

Age: 96 Years, 96 Year Old Males

Poets Novelists

Height: 6'0" (183 cm), 6'0" Males

U.S. State: Ohio

More Facts

education: Pennsylvania State University

awards: 1977 - Pushcart Prize
1983 - Pushcart Prize
1991 - Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

2011 - English-Speaking Union prize
2011 - Arthur Rense Prize
- American Academy of Arts and Letters award
- Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award

Childhood & Early Life
David Russell Wagoner was born in the city of Massillon, Ohio, on June 5, 1926. His father found a job in a steel mill in Whiting, Indiana, in 1933 and the family moved there.
Whiting was a heavily polluted industrial town and the boy’s young mind was deeply influenced by his surroundings. He began writing at the age of ten and was also interested in magic and theater.
After completing his schooling he attended the Navy ROTC program at Pennsylvania State University where he studied short-story writing and playwriting. He also attended a poetry workshop with poet Theodore Roethke, who became his mentor and later a close friend. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1947.
He proceeded to the Indiana University from where he received an M.A. in English in 1949.
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Soon after earning his master’s degree he embarked on an academic career, accepting a teaching position at DePauw University in 1949. Shortly after, he moved to the Pennsylvania State University in 1950.
During this time he also began pursuing a writing career simultaneously and published his first book of poetry, ‘Dry Sun, Dry Wind’ in 1953. He followed it up with two novels in quick succession: ‘The Man in the Middle’ (1954) and ‘Money, Money, Money’ (1955).
His early literary works reflected his childhood experiences of growing up in a polluted and depressed place, devoid of any greenery or natural resources. In 1954, he moved to the University of Washington in Seattle as an associate professor of English. His mentor Roethke was the one who suggested this step.
He published ‘A Place to Stand’ (1958), and ‘Poems’ (1959) before bringing out the poetry collection ‘The Nesting Ground’ in 1963 which addressed his new, pristine surroundings in the Pacific Northwest, a stark contrast to the polluted bleak Midwestern landscape of his youth.
In 1965, he published the novel ‘The Escape Artist’ which went on to become his best known novel. The story revolved around the life of a young boy who tries to make it big as an amateur magician. The work which reflected Wagoner’s own childhood fascination with magic was later made into a feature film by the executive producer Francis Ford Coppola.
An internationally acclaimed poet by the mid-1960s, Wagoner was made editor of Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002. In 1966, he also became a full professor at the University of Washington. The same year also saw the publication of ‘Staying Alive’, his most critically successful collection of poems to that point.
Wagoner’s former mentor and close friend Roethke died in 1963. Nearly a decade later in 1972, Wagoner published ‘Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1943–63’, a compilation of writings by Roethke. In 1972 Wagoner also published what would become his most famous poem, ‘Lost,’ in the collection titled ‘Riverbed.’
In 1978, Wagoner was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, a post he held until 1999. He became professor emeritus at the University of Washington in 2002.
Over a writing career spanning six decades, David Wagoner published ten novels and more than 20 collections of poems, and also edited the ‘Best American Poetry anthology of 2009.’ One of his recent works is the poetry collection ‘After the Point of No Return’ (2012).

Major Works
David Wagoner’s best known novel is ‘The Escape Artist,’ the story of an amateur magician who has to deal with unscrupulous people in his pursuit for greatness. The book was adapted as a film in 1981.
The poem ‘Lost’ is regarded as his masterpiece. Since its first printing in 1972, it has appeared on greeting cards and used in life-coaching and yoga practices in addition to being repeatedly reproduced in poetry anthologies. The poem has also found a place in Oprah Winfrey’s website.
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Awards & Achievements
He won his first Pushcart Prize in 1977, and the second one in 1983.
He received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1991.
He is also the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Fiction Award, and the Arthur Rense Prize.
Personal Life & Legacy
David Wagoner is thrice married. His third wife is the poet Robin Seyfried.

See the events in life of David Wagoner in Chronological Order

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