W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)
Monday, March 18th, 2019
Pultizer Prize-winning poet W.S. (William Stanley) Merwin has passed away at the age of 91.
The author of more than 50 books, including poetry, prose, essays, and translations, Merwin was known both for his work and his activism. He was first awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for his collection The Carrier of Ladders, but, in an act of protest against the Vietnam War, he refused the prize purse, requesting that it instead be donated to peace activism and draft resistance. Merwin would later be awarded a second Pulitzer, as well as a National Book Award and other honors.
Later in life, Merwin turned the focus of his activism, as well as the topic of much of his poetry, toward the natural world. He bought up several small adjoining parcels of barren land on the island of Maui, Hawaii, and worked to remove invasive plants and cultivate a palm forest. He built his home there, and continued to live and work there with his wife, Paula, until her death in 2017. Together, they created the Merwin Conservancy, a non-profit organization that would preserve the natural landscape Merwin had worked so hard to create, and advocate for the advancement of literature through such programs as a residency for artists on the property. The Conservancy, headed by Merwin's stepson, Matthew Carlos Schwartz, will continue to work to bring those plans to fruition.
In his later years, Merwin had lost much of his eyesight due to macular degeneration, and though he still wrote occasionally, it has been three years since his final original collection of poetry, Garden Time, was released. Merwin died peacefully in his sleep on March 15th, 2019.