The Journey of Poet Laureate and Professor William Stafford

By Sara Schaff /// Staff Writer

William Stafford, born Jan. 17, 1914 in Hutchinson, Kansas, was a poet widely considered to be one of the most influential American poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. Awards include the National Book Award in 1963 for his first collection ever published,“Traveling Through the Dark,”  (originally released in 1962, when Stafford was 48 years old) and the Shelley Memorial Award bestowed by the Poetry Society of America in 1970. He was also appointed a one-year position as Poet Laureate. Stafford received a BA from the University of Kansas in 1937, and was then called away for military service in the Second World War shortly thereafter. He identified himself as a conscientious objector and as a result was moved around between several different Civilian Public Service camps. Stafford’s time doing military work is a period to which his reflective, deceptively plain-spoken writing often seems to be a response. In fact, his Master’s thesis, entitled “Down In My Heart,” was a prose-memoir which recounted many of his experiences in the work camps. After Stafford’s military service, he had a brief stint as a teacher at Chaffey High School before he was recruited in 1947 by the president of Lewis & Clark College at the time, Morgan Odell, who found in Stafford an intelligent man and a skilled writer, as well as a kindred spirit in the sense that Odell himself had taken a similar objective stance to World War II. Stafford remained at Lewis & Clark until his retirement in 1978. During his time here, he was frequently called away for poetry readings and to conduct educational writing workshops. Stafford died of a heart attack on Aug. 28 in 1993. That morning, he had risen early and had begun writing another poem, a habit which harkened back to his time in the military work camps. “I’m still here writing it down,” the unfinished poem states, “You don’t have to/prove anything…Just be ready/for what God sends.”

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