James Vincent Tate (December 8, 1943 – July 8, 2015) was an American poet whose work earned him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He was a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where he lived with his mother and his grandparents in his grandparents' house. His father, a pilot in World War II, had died in combat on April 11, 1944, before Tate was a year old. Tate and his mother moved out after seven years when she remarried. The eventual poet said he belonged to a gang in high school and had little interest in literature. He planned on being a gas station attendant as his uncle had been, but finding that his friends to his surprise were going to college, he applied to Kansas State College of Pittsburg (now Pittsburg State University) in 1961. Tate wrote his first poem a few months into college with no external motivation; he observed that poetry "became a private place that I was hugely drawn to, where I could let my daydreams—and my pain—come in completely disguised. I knew from the moment I started writing that I never wanted to be writing about my life." In college he read Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams and was "in heaven". He received his B.A. in 1965, going on to earn his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa's famed Writer's Workshop. During this period he was finally exposed to fellow poets and he became interested in surrealism, reading Max Jacob, Robert Desnos, and André Breton; for Benjamin Péret he expressed particular affection. Of poets writing in Spanish, César Vallejo "destroyed" him but he was not so taken by the lyricism or romanticism of Pablo Neruda or Federico García Lorca...
Quotes by James Tate
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