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Poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz became the youngest-ever recipient of the Yale University’s Bollingen Prize on this date in 1959 for his collection of poetry, Summer Knowledge: New and Selected Poems. Schwartz (1913-66) broke upon the literary scene at 25 with In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, which was enthusiastically praised by T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Lowell, among other literary luminaries. Schwartz became poetry editor at Partisan Review and then The New Republic. He suffered from mental illness for more than two decades, however, aggravated by alcohol and drug use, and ultimately fell into penury and isolation. Literary critic R.W. Flint described Schwartz’s stories as “the definitive portrait of the Jewish middle class in New York during the Depression,” and Morris Dickstein suggested that “Schwartz’s best stories are either poker-faced satirical takes on the bohemians and outright failures of his generation... or chronicles of the distressed lives of his parents’ generation, for whom the promise of American life has not panned out.” Saul Bellow based Humboldt’s Gift on his relationship with Delmore Schwartz; John Berryman dedicated His Toy, His Dream, His Rest to him and included twelve elegiac poems about him; Lou Reed dedicated his 1982 album, The Blue Mask, to Schwartz, “the greatest man I ever met.”
“The Jew is at once alienated and indestructible; he is in exile from his own country and in exile even from himself, yet he survives the annihilating fury of history.” —Delmore Schwartz