Biography of Paul Engle
Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 – March 22, 1991), noted American poet, editor, teacher, literary critic, novelist, and playwright. He is perhaps best remembered as the long-time director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and as founder of the International Writing Program (IWP), both at the University of Iowa.
Engle is often mistakenly credited with having founded the Iowa Writers' Workshop (an honor that more appropriately belongs to his predecessor, Wilbur Schramm). Nonetheless, perhaps no one helped to better establish the reputation of the venerable writing program than Engle. During his tenure as director (1941–1965), he was responsible for luring some of the finest writers of the day to Iowa City. Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Robie Macauley, Kurt Vonnegut and many other prominent novelists and poets served as faculty under Engle. Additionally, Engle increased enrollment and oversaw numerous students of future fame and influence, including Flannery O'Connor, Philip Levine, Mark Costello, Marvin Bell, Joe Nicholson, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Donald Justice, Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus and Robert Bly. During his tenure, Engle raised millions of dollars in support of the program whose shape and direction proved the model for the hundreds of writing programs that have followed.
Vonnegut described Engle in a 1967 letter in this fashion: "The former head, Paul Engle, is still around, is a hayseed clown, a foxy grandpa, a terrific promoter, who, if you listen closely, talks like a man with a paper asshole."
In 1967, following his departure as director of the workshop, Engle and future second wife Nieh Hualing co-founded The University of Iowa's International Writing Program, which provided for dozens of published authors from around the world to visit Iowa City each year to write and collaborate. Engle left the Writer's Workshop permanently in 1969 to devote himself full-time to the international program.
Born Paul Hamilton Engle in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Thomas Allen, a livery stable owner, and Evelyn (Reinheiner) Engle, Engle grew up in the Wellington Heights section of Cedar Rapids. He graduated from Washington High School (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), and later attended Coe College, The University of Iowa, Columbia University, and Oxford University (where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar). As a student at Iowa, Engle was one of the earliest recipients of an advanced degree awarded for creative work: his first collection Worn Earth, which went on to win the Yale Series of Younger Poets. His second book, American Song (1934), was given a rave front-page review in the New York Times Book Review and was even, briefly, a bestseller. From 1954 to 1959, Engle served as series editor for the O. Henry Prize.
At the time of his death (in Chicago's O'Hare Airport on his way to accept an award in Poland), Engle was the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, a novel, a memoir, an opera libretto (for Philip Bezanson), and even a children's book. In addition, Engle wrote numerous articles and reviews for many of the largest periodicals of his day.
His papers are held at the University of Iowa and Coe College.
Paul Engle Poems
Venus and the Lute Player
Far in the background a blue mountain waits To echo back the song The note-necked swan, while it reverberates, Paddles the tune along.
I am an American tourist in my room writing letters. Outside the air of Calcutta trembles in the terrible heat. Air conditioning gently wraps me in cool air.
In a Bar Near Shibuya Station, Tokyo
The Japanese next to me at the bar bites at his sake with big irregular teeth. Behind the heavy glasses (which he wears
Return in Autumn
THE LAND UNCHANGED, the cattle track, Narrow for two split hooves to meet, Winds to walnut grove and back
Proem to American Song
BLOW, LONG TRADE WINDS of American speech, Over this land where we can rise, unfurl Our new and untried sails, and drive with you
Hair brown as a walnut hull, And finally a will Running through bone and marrow
Now, in this time, I have seen the living face Bleached of its blood, gray, and strange things done In the name of mercy and the good of state.
Twenty below, I said, and closed the door, A drop of five degrees and going down. It makes a tautened drum-hide of the floor,
I have heard the horn of Roland goldly screaming In the petty Pyrenees of the inner ear And seen the frightful Saracens of fear
Hair brown as a walnut hull,
And finally a will
Running through bone and marrow
Tough as grandfather's skull
Which seventy years ago
Broke a hickory arrow
From a Dakota bow.
I have the hands of a man,