Mona Van Duyn


Northeast Iowa native Mona Van Duyn, a United States poet laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of nine volumes of poetry, died December 2, 2004, at her home in suburban St. Louis.  She was 83. The announcement was made by her publisher; Alfred A. Knopf, who said she had recently been found to have bone cancer. 

Mona Van Duyn was born May 9, 1921, in Waterloo and spent her childhood in Eldora where she "cleaned out the library" in her zeal to read, she told the Courier in a 1991 interview.  She described writing in secret notebooks as a child and never shared her writings with parents or teachers.  She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, then Iowa State Teachers College, in 1942.  She credited late English professors Bert. E. Boothe and H. W. Reninger and Cedar Falls poet James Hearst as sources of inspiration.  She attended the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and received a master's degree from the University of Iowa.  In 1943 she married Jarvis A. Thurston; he survives her.

Mona Van Duyn became known for writing poetry that explored the "pleasures and drudgeries of middle-class American life," wrote Brian Henry in The New York Times Book Review. Her first book in nine years, "Selected Poems," was published two years ago. Her career began with "Valentines to the Wide World" in 1959.  "To See, To Take," her second volume, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1971. She was selected by the Library of Congress in 1992 to serve as the United States poet laureate. She was the first woman to be chosen. A year earlier, Mona Van Duyn won the Pulitzer Prize.  At the time, UNI professor of English literature Barbara Lounsberry praised Van Duyn's writing as characterized by "great love and great variety" and described her as the "most esteemed writer to come out of the department." She also received other prizes, including the Bollingen Prize in 1970; the Carl Sandburg Prize of Cornell College in 1982; and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1972.  She was a member of the American Academy and Institute of. Arts and Letters, and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also taught at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington University in St. Louis. Her other works are "A Time of Bees" (1961); "Letters From a Father, and Other Poems" (1982); "If It Be Not I: Collected Poems, 1959-1982" (1992); and "Firefall" (1992), which remains in print at Knopf. Copyright Waterloo Courier, December 10, 2004, page B4.