William Stafford

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

:: Poet Home :: Poetry :: Short Stories :: Contact ::
William Stafford.
William Stafford.

William Edgar Stafford (January 17, 1914 – August 28, 1993) was an American poet and pacifist, and the father of poet and essayist Kim Stafford. He and his writings are sometimes identified with the Pacific Northwest.


  • 1 Early Life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Bibliography
  • 4 External links

Early Life

Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, the oldest of three children in a highly literate family. During the 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 the sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and working as an electrician's mate.

He graduated from high school in the town of Liberal 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, 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.


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 forty-eight years old. It won the National Book Award the following year in 1963. 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."[1]

He was a close friend and collaborator with the 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."[2] He kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems, of which roughly 3,000 were published.

In 1970, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that is now known as Poet Laureate. In 1975, he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon. In 1980, he retired from Lewis and Clark College but continued to travel extensively and give public readings of his poetry. In 1992, he won the Western States Book Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.[3]

He died of a heart attack in Lake Oswego, Oregon on August 28, 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the line "You don't have to be good," my mother said;"just be ready for what God sends." [4] His works are still held by the Stafford family, and managed by Kim Stafford and Paul Merchant at the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis and Clark College.


  • West of Your City, Talisman Press, 1960.
  • Traveling through the Dark, Harper, 1962.
  • The Rescued Year, Harper, 1965.
  • 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 and William Matthews) Tennessee Poetry Press, 1971.
  • In the Clock of Reason, Soft Press, 1973.
  • Someday, Maybe, Harper, 1973.
  • That Other Alone, Perishable Press, 1973.
  • Going Places: Poems, West Coast Poetry Review, 1974.
  • The Earth, Graywolf Press, 1974.
  • North by West, (With John Meade Haines) edited by Karen Sollid and 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, Harper, 1977.
  • The Design on the Oriole, Night Heron Press, 1977.
  • Smoke's Way (chapbook), Graywolf Press, 1978.
  • 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, Sceptre Press, 1978.
  • Tuned in Late One Night, The Deerfield Press, 1978, The Gallery Press, 1978.
  • The Quiet of the Land, Nadja Press, 1979.
  • Around You, Your Horse & A Catechism, Sceptre Press, 1979.
  • Absolution, Martin Booth, 1980.
  • Things That Happen When There Aren't Any People, BOA Editions, 1980.
  • Passwords, Sea Pen Press, 1980.
  • Wyoming Circuit, Tideline Press, 1980.
  • Sometimes Like a Legend: Puget Sound Country, Copper Canyon Press, 1981.
  • A Glass Face in the Rain: New Poems, Harper, 1982.
  • Roving across Fields: A Conversation and Uncollected Poems 1942-1982, edited by Thom Tammaro, Barnwood, 1983.
  • Smoke's Way: Poems, Graywolf, 1983.
  • Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry,(With Marvin Bell) David Godine, 1983.
  • Listening Deep: Poems (chapbook), Penmaen Press, 1984.
  • Stories and Storms and Strangers, Honeybrook Press, 1984.
  • Wyoming, Ampersand Press, Roger Williams College, 1985.
  • Brother Wind, Honeybrook Press, 1986.
  • An Oregon Message, Harper 1987.
  • You and Some Other Characters, Honeybrook Press, 1987.
  • Annie-Over,(With Marvin Bell) Honeybrook Press, 1988.
  • Writing the World, Alembic Press, 1988.
  • A Scripture of Leaves, Brethren Press, 1989.
  • Fin, Feather, Fur, Honeybrook Press, 1989.
  • Kansas Poems of William Stafford, edited by Denise Low, Woodley Press, 1990.
  • How to Hold Your Arms When It Rains, Confluence Press, 1991.
  • Passwords, HarperPerennial, 1991.
  • The Long Sigh the Wind Makes, Adrienne Lee Press, 1991.
  • History is Loose Again, Honeybrook Press, 1991.
  • The Animal That Drank Up Sound (a children's book, illustrated by Debra Frasier), Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1992.
  • Seeking the Way (with illuminations by Robert Johnson), Melia Press, 1992.
  • My Name is William Tell, Confluence Press, 1992.
  • Holding Onto the Grass, Honeybrook Press, 1992, reprinted, Weatherlight Press, 1994.
  • Who Are You Really Wanderer?, Honeybrook Press, 1993.
  • The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford, edited and with an introduction by Robert Bly, HarperPerennial, 1993.
  • Learning to Live in the World: Earth Poems by William Stafford, Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1994.
  • The Methow River Poems, Confluence Press, 1995.
  • Even In Quiet Places, Confluence Press, 1996.
  • The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, introduction by Naomi Shihab Nye, Graywolf Press, 1998.
  • Down in My Heart (memoir). 1947. Reprint. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Publishing House; Columbia, S.C.: Bench Press, 1985.
  • Winterward. Ph.D., diss. University of Iowa, 1954.
  • Writing the Australian Crawl. Views on the Writer's Vocation (essays and reviews). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978.
  • You Must Revise Your Life (essays and interviews). Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press, 1986.
  • The Animal That Drank Up Sound (children's book, with illustrations by Debra Frasier). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
Works Translated
  • POEMS BY GHALIB. New York: Hudson Review, 1969. First Edition in wrappers. Translated by Stafford, Adrienne Rich and Ajiz Ahmad.
  • List of Works by Year
  • William Stafford page at Academy of American Poets website
  • Quotes about Stafford's writing style
  • An Encounter with William Stafford by David Feela
  • Essay on Stafford and three other poets
  • The Sacred Blur: William Stafford
  • William Stafford Memorial Page at Graywolf Press
  • William Stafford Collection at Lewis & Clark College
  • Friends of William Stafford
  • Poems about Hutchinson, Kansas
  • This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from a Wikipedia article. To access the original click here.
    Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
    under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
    or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
    with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
    A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU
    Free Documentation License".