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Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass dies

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — 

W.D. Snodgrass, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who had a nearly 40-year teaching career, died at his upstate New York home after a four-month battle with inoperable lung cancer. He was 83.

His family said he died Tuesday at his home in Madison County, just east of Syracuse.

Snodgrass won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1960 for his first book, "Heart's Needle," which grew from heartbreak at losing custody of his daughter in a bitter divorce.

Although widely credited as a founding member of the "confessional" school of poetry, Snodgrass himself dismissed the label.

Born William DeWitt Snodgrass in Wilkinsburg, Pa., on Jan. 5, 1926, he was known to friends throughout his life as "De," pronounced "dee." He briefly attended Geneva College in Pennsylvania before he was drafted into the Navy during World War II.

Although he aspired to a career in music before the war, Snodgrass enrolled afterward in the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, hoping to become a playwright. Instead, he drifted into some poetry classes and studied with such greats as John Crowe Ransom, Karl Shapiro, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell.

After receiving two master's degrees in writing, Snodgrass embarked in 1955 on a nearly 40-year teaching career, which included stints at Cornell University, the University of Rochester, Wayne State University, Old Dominion University and, from 1968 to 1977, Syracuse University. He retired from teaching in 1994.

Snodgrass was the author of more than 30 books of poetry and translations.

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