William Stafford

William Stafford (1914-1993). Courtesy PoemHunter.

William Stafford
Occupation Poet
Nationality United States United States
Writing period 1962-1993
Spouse(s) Dorothy Hope Frantz

William Edgar Stafford (January 17, 1914 - August 28, 1993) was an American poet and academic, and the father of poet and essayist Kim Stafford. He was appointed the 20th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970.[1]



Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, the oldest of three children in a highly literate family. During the Great Depression, his family moved from town to town in an effort to find work for his father. Stafford helped contribute to family income by delivering newspapers, working in sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and working as an electrician's apprentice. During this time he had a near death experience in a local swimming hole.

He graduated from high school in the town of Liberal, Kansas, in 1933. After attending junior college, he received a B.A. from the University of Kansas in 1937. He was drafted into the United States armed forces in 1941, while pursuing his master's degree at the University of Kansas, when he became a conscientious objector. As a registered pacifist, he performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the Civilian Public Service camps operated by the Brethren Service Commission of the Church of the Brethren, which consisted of forestry and soil conservation work in Arkansas, California, and Illinois for $2.50 per month. While working in California in 1944, he met and he married Dorothy Hope Frantz with whom he later had four children.

He received his M.A. from the University of Kansas in 1947. His master's thesis, the prose memoir Down In My Heart, was published in 1948 and described his experience in the forest service camps. That same year he moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis & Clark College. In 1954, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Stafford taught for one academic year (1955–1956) in the English department at Manchester College in Indiana, a college affiliated with the Church of the Brethren where he had received training during his time in Civilian Public Service.[2] The following year (1956–57), he taught at San Jose State in California, and the next year returned to the faculty of Lewis & Clark.


One of the most striking features of his career is that he began publishing his poetry only later in life. His first major collection of poetry Traveling Through the Dark was published when he was 48 years old. The title poem is one of Stafford's most well known works. It describes an experience of encountering a recently killed doe on a mountain road. Before pushing the doe off into the canyon, the poet discovers that the doe was pregnant and the fawn inside the doe is still alive.

Stafford had a quiet daily ritual of writing and his writing focuses on the ordinary. The gentle quotidian style of his poetry has been compared to Robert Frost. His poems are typically short, focusing on the earthy, accessible details appropriate to a specific locality. In a 1971 interview, Stafford said:

"I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."[3]

Stafford was a close friend and collaborator with poet Robert Bly. Despite his late start, he was a frequent contributor to magazines and anthologies and eventually published fifty-seven volumes of poetry. James Dickey called Stafford one of those poets "who pour out rivers of ink, all on good poems."[4] He kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems, of which roughly 3,000 were published.

In 1980, he retired from Lewis and Clark College but continued to travel extensively and give public readings of his poetry.

Personal lifeEdit

Stafford died of a heart attack in Lake Oswego, Oregon on August 28, 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the lines, "'You don't have to / prove anything,' my mother said. 'Just be ready / for what God sends.'"[5][6] In 2008, the Stafford family gave William Stafford's papers, including the 20,000 pages of his daily writing, to the Special Collections Department at Lewis and Clark College.

Kim Stafford, who serves as literary executor for the Estate of William Stafford, has written a memoir Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford (Graywolf Press).


Stafford's first major collection, Travelling through the Dark (1962), won the National Book Award in 1963.[7] In 1970, Stafford was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now known as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. In 1975, he was named Oregon Poet Laureate.

In 1992, he won the Western States Book Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.[8]



  • West of Your City. Talisman Press, 1960.
  • Traveling through the Dark. New York: Harper, 1962.
  • The Rescued Year. New York: Harper, 1966.
  • Eleven Untitled Poems. Perishable Press, 1968.
  • Weather: Poems. Perishable Press, 1969.
  • Allegiances. Harper, 1970.
  • Temporary Facts. Duane Schneider Press, 1970.
  • Poems for Tennessee (with Robert Bly & William Matthews). Martin, TN: Tennessee Poetry Press, 1971.
  • In the Clock of Reason., Soft Press, 1973.
  • Someday, Maybe. Harper, 1973.
  • Going Places: Poems. West Coast Poetry Review, 1974.
  • North by West (with John Meade Haines; edited by Karen Sollid & John Sollid). Spring Rain Press, 1975.
  • Braided Apart (with son, Kim Robert Stafford). Confluence, 1976.
  • I Would Also Like to Mention Aluminum: Poems and a Conversation. Slow Loris Press, 1976.
  • Late, Passing Prairie Farm: A Poem. Main Street Inc., 1976.
  • The Design on the Oriole. Night Heron Press, 1977.
  • Stories That Could Be True: New and collected poems. New York: Harper, 1977.
  • All about Light. Croissant, 1978.
  • A Meeting with Disma Tumminello and William Stafford (edited by Nat Scammacca). Cross-Cultural Communications, 1978.
  • Passing a Creche. Sea Pen Press, 1978.
  • Tuft by Puff. Perishable Press, 1978.
  • Two about Music. Knotting, UK: Sceptre Press, 1978.
  • Around You, Your Horse [and] A Catechism. Knotting, UK: Sceptre Press, 1979.
  • Absolution. Knitting, England: Martin Booth, 1980.
  • Things That Happen Where There Aren't Any People. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1980.
  • A Glass Face in the Rain: New poems. New York: Harper, 1982.
  • Roving across Fields: A conversation, and uncollected poems, 1942-1982 (edited by Thom Tammaro). Barnwood, 1983.
  • Smoke's Way: Poems from limited editions, 1968-1981. Graywolf, c.1983.
  • Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry (with Marvin Bell). Boston: Godine, 1983.
  • Listening Deep: Poems (chapbook). Penmaen Press, 1984.
  • Stanza Press (with others). Stanza Press, 1984.
  • Wyoming. Bristol, RI: Ampersand Press, 1985.
  • An Oregon Message. Harper, 1987.
  • The Long Sigh the Wind Makes: Poems by William Stafford. Adrienne Lee Press, 1991.
  • Passwords: Poems. New York: Harper, 1991.
  • River As Metaphor: Poems. Red Apple Publishing, 1991.
  • The Blue Train, and other poems. Woodhenge Press, 1990.
  • Kansas Poems of William Stafford. Memorial Press, 1990.
  • My Name Is William Tell. Confluence Press, 1992.
  • Learning to Live in the World: Earth poems. Harcourt Brace, 1994.
  • The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems. New York: Harper, 1994.
  • Listening To The River: Seasons in The American west (photographs By Robert Adams). New York: Aperture, 1994.
  • The Methow River Poems. Lewiston, ID: Confluence Press, 1995.
  • Even in Quiet Places: Poems (afterword By Kim Stafford). Lewiston, ID: Confluence Press, 1996.
  • The Way It Is: New and selected poems. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1998.

Ask Me: 100 essential poems. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2014.[9]


  • Down in My Heart (based on his experiences as a conscientious objector). Brethren Publishing House, 1947, 1971; Bench Press, 1985.
  • Friends to This Ground: A statement for readers, teachers, and writers of literature. National Council of Teachers of English, 1967.
  • Leftovers: A care package: Two lectures. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1973.
  • Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation (edited by Donald Hall). Ann Arbor, MI: University Of Michigan Press, 1978.
  • You Must Revise Your Life. Ann Arbor, MI: University Of Michigan Press, 1986.
  • Socialism, Radicalism & Nostalgia: Social criticism in Britain, 1775-1830. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Writing the World. Haw River Press, 1988.
  • A Scripture of Leaves. Brethren Press, 1989.
  • Getting the Knack: Twenty poetry writing exercises. National Council of Teachers of English, 1992.
  • Who Are You Really, Wanderer: Pages in the language of respect and conciliation, 1993.
  • The Mozart Myths: A critical reassessment. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.
  • Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further views on the writer's vocation (edited By Paul Merchant and Vincent Wixon). Ann Arbor, MI: University Of Michigan Press, 1997.
  • Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on peace and war. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2003.


  • Poems by Ghalib (translated with Aijaz Ahmad and Adrienne Rich). Hudson Review, 1969.
  • Window on the Black Sea: Bulgarian poetry in translation (edited by Richard Harteis). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1992.


  • The Voices of Prose (with Frederick Candelaria). McGraw, 1966.
  • The Achievement of Brother Antoninus: A comprehensive selection of his poems with a critical introduction. Scott, Foresman, 1967.
  • Poems and Perspectives (with Robert H. Ross). Scott, Foresman, 1971.
  • Modern Poetry of Western America (with Clinton Larsen). Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
  • The Pushcart Prize X (with Stanley Plumly and Bill Henderson). The Pushcart Press, 1985.
  • Meaning of No (with Steven Lautermilch). Scots Plaid/Persephone Press, 1993.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation[10]

Audio / videoEdit

Traveling through the Dark -a poem by William E Stafford

Traveling through the Dark -a poem by William E Stafford. Poetic Productions by Adrian Ortiz

  • Capturing People of the South Wind: On Creative Process. National Council of Teachers of English, 1972.
  • Troubleshooting. Watershed Tapes, 1984.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation[10]

See alsoEdit

Preceded by
Ethel Romig Fuller
Oregon Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
Lawson Fusao Inada

References Edit

External linksEdit

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