Stephen Vincent Benét

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Stephen Vincent Benét
Stephen Vincent Benét, Yale College B.A., 1919
Born (1898-07-22)July 22, 1898
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, United States
Died March 13, 1943(1943-03-13) (aged 44)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Alma mater Yale University
Period 20th century
Genre Poetry, short story, novel
Notable works John Brown's Body (1929)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1936)
By the Waters of Babylon (1937)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) (adapted from Benét's story The Sobbin' Women)
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1929)
O. Henry Award (1937)
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1944, posthumous)
Children Thomas, Stephanie, and Rachel
Relatives William Rose Benét (brother)
Laura Benét (sister)

Stephen Vincent Benét /bɪˈn/ (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist. He is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War John Brown's Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for the short stories "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) and "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937). In 2009, The Library of America selected Benét’s story "The King of the Cats" (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub.

Life and career

Early life

Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to James Walker Benét, a colonel in the United States Army, and his wife. His grandfather and namesake was a Minorcan descendant born in St. Augustine, Florida who led the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps from 1874 to 1891 with the rank of brigadier general, a graduate of the United States Military Academy who served in the American Civil War. The younger Benét's paternal uncle Laurence Vincent Benét was an ensign in the United States Navy during the Spanish–American War who later manufactured the French-Hotchkiss machine gun.[1][2]

At about age ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He graduated from Summerville Academy in Augusta, GA and from Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. He also edited[3] and contributed light verse to campus humor magazine The Yale Record.[4] He published his first book at age 17 and was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis.[5] He was also a part-time contributor to the early Time magazine.[6]

In 1920-21,Benét went to France on a Yale traveling fellowship. There he met Rosemary Carr, whom he married in Chicago in November 1921.[7] Carr was also a writer and poet, and they collaborated on some works.

Man of letters

Benét helped solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition.[8] He published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1931.[9]

Benét's fantasy short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) won an O. Henry Award. He furnished the material for Scratch, a one-act opera by Douglas Moore. The story was filmed in 1941 and shown originally under the title All That Money Can Buy. He also wrote the sequel "Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent", in which Daniel Webster encounters Leviathan.

Young Benét lived in Augusta, Georgia in what is now known as Stephen Vincent Benét House, which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Benet House is situated on the Summerville Campus of Augusta University, but it was originally part of the Augusta Arsenal. Benet's father Col. James Walker Benet lived in this house with his wife and daughter while he was the commanding officer of the Augusta Arsenal from approximately August 1911 to February 1919. Stephen Vincent Benet would have visited his parents while they were resident. The local newspaper considered it newsworthy enough to congratulate Benet on winning the Maysfield Prize for best undergraduate poem while Benet attended Yale.(Augusta Chronicle 1/21/1917 p. 21) Benet House was the name assigned to the building when it became the property of Augusta College. It was once the residence of the college president but now serves as space for administrative offices.

Death and legacy

Evergreen Cemetery, Stephen Vincent Benét

Benét died of a heart attack in New York City on March 13, 1943 at the age of 44[10] and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut, where he had owned the historic Amos Palmer House. On April 17, 1943, NBC broadcast a special tribute to his life and works which included a performance by Helen Hayes.[11] He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Western Star, an unfinished narrative poem on the settling of the United States.

Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee takes its title from the final phrase of Benét's poem "American Names". The full quotation appears at the beginning of Brown's book:

I shall not be there
I shall rise and pass
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

Benét adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story "The Sobbin' Women". It was adapted as the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. His play John Brown's Body was staged on Broadway in 1953 in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, directed by Charles Laughton. The book of the same name was included in Life Magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–44.[12]

Benét's children were Thomas, Stephanie, and Rachel. His brother William Rose Benét was a poet, anthologist, and critic who is largely remembered for his desk reference Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia (1948).[citation needed]

Selected works

  • Five Men and Pompey, a series of dramatic portraits, Poetry, 1915
  • The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun (Yale University Prize Poem), 1917[13]
  • Young Adventure: A book of Poems, 1918
  • Heavens and Earth, 1920
  • The Beginnings of Wisdom: A Novel, 1921
  • Young People's Pride: A Novel, 1922
  • Jean Huguenot: A Novel, 1923
  • The Ballad of William Sycamore: A Poem, 1923
  • King David: A two-hundred-line ballad in six parts, 1923
  • Nerves, 1924 (A play, with John Farrar)
  • That Awful Mrs. Eaton, 1924 (A play, with John Farrar)
  • Tiger Joy: A Book of Poems, 1925
  • The Mountain Whippoorwill: How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler's Prize: A Poem., 1925
  • Spanish Bayonet, 1926
  • John Brown's Body, 1928
  • The Barefoot Saint: A Short Story, 1929
  • The Litter of Rose Leaves: A Short Story, 1930
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1930 (screenplay with Gerrit Lloyd)
  • Ballads and Poems, 1915–1930, 1931
  • A Book of Americans, 1933 (with Rosemary Carr Benét, his wife)
  • James Shore's Daughter: A Novel, 1934
  • The Burning City, 1936 (includes 'Litany for Dictatorships')
  • The Magic of Poetry and the Poet's Art, 1936
  • By the Waters of Babylon, 1937
  • The Headless Horseman: one-act play, 1937
  • Thirteen O'Clock, 1937
  • We Aren't Superstitious, 1937 (Essay on the Salem Witch Trials)
  • Johnny Pye and the Fool Killer: A Short Story, 1938
  • Tales Before Midnight: Collection of Short Stories, 1939
  • The Ballad of the Duke's Mercy, 1939
  • Elementals, 1940–41 (broadcast)
  • Freedom's Hard-Bought Thing, 1941 (broadcast)
  • Listen to the People, 1941
  • A Summons to the Free, 1941
  • Cheers for Miss Bishop, 1941 (screenplay with Adelaide Heilbron, Sheridan Gibney)
  • Selected Works, 1942 (2 vols.)
  • Short Stories, 1942
  • Nightmare at Noon: Short Poem, 1942 (in The Treasury Star Parade, ed. by William A. Bacher)
  • A Child is Born, 1942 (broadcast)
  • They Burned the Books, 1942
  • They Burned the Books, 1942 (broadcast)

These works were published posthumously:

  • Western Star, 1943 (unfinished)
  • Twenty Five Short Stories, 1943
  • America, 1944
  • O'Halloran's Luck and Other Short Stories, 1944
  • We Stand United, 1945 (radio scripts)
  • The Bishop's Beggar, 1946
  • The Last Circle, 1946
  • Selected Stories, 1947
  • From the Earth to the Moon, 1958


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ "Stephen Vincent Benét". Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University Deceased during the Year 1942–1943. New Haven: Yale University. January 1, 1944. p. 123.
  4. ^ Bronson, Francis W., Thomas Caldecott Chubb, and Cyril Hume, eds. (1922) The Yale Record Book of Verse: 1872-1922. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 16–17, 24, 42–43, 50–51, 67–68, 82–83.
  5. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. 12, Micropaedia, 15th edition, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. c. 1989
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ The Poetry Foundation Stephen Vincent Benét.
  8. ^ Bradley, George. The Yale Younger Poets Anthology, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, pp. 23–53
  9. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  10. ^ Weicksel, Amanda (2001). "Stephen Vincent Benét". Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Penn State University. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  11. ^ See The Official Website of Helen Hayes, Heard and Overheard, New York PM Daily, April, 19, 1943, page 22.
  12. ^ Canby, Henry Seidel. "The 100 Outstanding Books of 1924–1944". Life Magazine, 14 August 1944. Chosen in collaboration with the magazine's editors.
  13. ^ Stephen Vincent Benét, Nathan Wallach (1917). The Drug-shop, Or Endymion in Edmonstoun. Yale University Press. 


  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 46–47. 
  • Fenton, Charles A. (1978) [1958]. Stephen Vincent Benét: The Life and Times of an American Man of Letters, 1898–1943. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-20200-1. 

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