During a 60-year writing career, Merwin has received nearly every major literary award. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, just recently in 2009 for “The Shadow of Sirius” and in 1971 for “The Carrier of Ladders.” In 2006, he won the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress for “Present Company.” His retrospective collection “Migration: New and Selected Poems” won the 2005 National Book Award for poetry.
Born in 1927, Merwin showed an early interest in language and music, writing hymns for his father, a Presbyterian minister. He studied poetry at Princeton and, in 1952, his first book, “A Mask for Janus,” was selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. The author of more than 30 books of poetry and prose, Merwin’s influence on American poetry is profound. Often noted by critics is his decision, in the 1960s, to relinquish the use of punctuation. “I had come to feel that punctuation stapled the poems to the page,” Merwin wrote in his introduction to “The Second Four Books of Poems.” “Whereas I wanted the poems to evoke the spoken language, and wanted the hearing of them to be essential to taking them in.”
Since moving to Maui in 1976, William Merwin and his wife Paula have lived a quiet life in beautiful, natural surroundings. Merwin’s life has been evenly divided between poetry and the garden. He has reclaimed 19 acres of land on Maui officially designated as “waste land.” For over 30 years, he has planted well over 800 species of palms from around the world, as well as nearly all the native Hawaiian palms, creating a lush and rare tropical palm forest. In 2010, The Merwin Conservancy was founded to help preserve Merwin’s incredible living legacy.
Merwin’s many honors also include the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the Tanning Prize for Poetry, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, and the Governor’s Award for Literature of the State of Hawaii. He has received a Ford Foundation grant and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. Merwin is a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.