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A Life in Letters

Stanford Archives

OF MANY PARTS: Winters, shown above with his wife, Janet Lewis, near Sacramento, treasured country living and raised champion Airedales.

Born in Chicago in 1900, Arthur Yvor Winters published his first poems at age 19. Tuberculosis curtailed his studies at the University of Chicago but didn't stifle his creativity. During five years of recuperation in New Mexico, including two spent in a sanatorium, Winters's physical limitations only sharpened his intellectual focus. In 1926, having earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Colorado, he married Janet Lewis, a fellow poet from Chicago who also spent years convalescing from TB.

The couple arrived at Stanford in 1927; Winters began working toward his PhD in English and, a year later, secured a teaching position. Despite a period in the early 1940s when the department chairman's hostility drove Winters to seek a post elsewhere, he and Lewis spent the rest of their lives at Stanford, raising two children, Joanna Winters Thompson,'52, and Daniel. Lewis gained national recognition for her novels (among them The Wife of Martin Guerre, 1941) and her poetry, and she taught in the creative writing program in the late '60s. Winters, PhD '34, published hundreds of articles and numerous poetry books as well as the classics: In Defense of Reason (1947) and Forms of Discovery (1967).

But he was, above all, a teacher. Even though he won the prestigious 1961 Bollingen Prize for poetry, he told Stanford Today that recognition meant less to him than the student literary magazine Sequoia dedicating an issue to him the same year. "I consider it my greatest honor," he said.

Winters retired from the Albert Guerard professorship in 1966 and died of cancer two years later. Janet Lewis died in 1998 at the age of 99.

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