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Edgar Lee Masters


Edgar Lee Masters

Edgar Lee Masters was born in Garnett, Kansas, on August 23, 1868; his family moved to Lewiston, Illinois, soon after his birth. He attended Knox College for a year but had to withdraw due to family finances. He continued his studies privately and was admitted to the bar in 1891. Moving to Chicago in 1892, Masters practiced law there for almost thirty years, including eight years as a partner of Clarence Darrow.

Masters began writing poetry soon after his move to Chicago, but most of his early works were published under pseudonyms to avoid possible damage to his law practice. His first collection, A Book of Verses, was published in 1898, the same year he married Helen Jenkins. He published two more books of poetry, two collections of essays, and seven plays before achieving success, however. That success came with Spoon River Anthology, a collection of over 200 monologues from the dead in an Illinois graveyard; the Spoon River in the title is a real Illinois river, but the town in which the graveyard was located was a combination of Lewiston and Petersburg, Illinois (the latter being the home of his grandparents). Originally serialized in Reedy's Mirror 1914-1915, it was published in book form in 1915. Spoon River was an almost instant best seller, despite its many sexual and violent overtones.

Masters went on to publish 39 more books, but none enjoyed any real success. In 1920 he chose to abandon his family and move to New York City rather than face the consequences of being caught having an affair. He and his wife divorced in 1923, and he married Ellen Coyne in 1926. He died in a Philadelphia convalescent home on March 5, 1950, and was buried in Petersburg, Illinois.


A Book of Verses (1898)
Songs and Sonnets (1910)
Songs and Sonnets: Second Series (1912)
Spoon River Anthology (1915)
Songs and Satires (1916)
Fiddler Jones (1916)
The Great Valley (1916)
Toward the Gulf (1918)
Starved Rock (1919)
Domesday Book (1920)
The Open Sea (1921)
The New Spoon River (1924)
Lee: A Dramatic Poem (1925)
Selected Poems (1925)
Jack Kelso: A Dramatic Poem (1928)
The Fate of the Jury: An Epilogue to Domesday Book (1929)
Lichee Nuts (1930)
Godbey: A Dramatic Poems (1931)
The Serpent in the Wilderness (1933)
Richmond: A Dramatic Poem (1934)
Invisible Landscapes (1935)
Poems of People (1936)
The Golden Fleece of California (1936)
More People (1939)
Illinois Poems (1941)
Along the Illinois (1942)


Levy Mayer and the New Industrial Era (1927)
Lincoln: The Man (1931)
Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America (1935)
Across Spoon River: An Autobiography
Mark Twain: A Portrait (1938)
Whitman (1937)


The New Star Chamber and Other Essays (1904)
The Blood of the Prophets


Mitch Miller (1920)
Children of the Market Place (1922)
Skeeters Kirby (1923)
The Nuptial Flight (1923)
Mirage (1924)
Kit O'Brien (1927)
The Tide of Time (1937)
The Sangamon (1942)


The Tale of Chicago (1933)
Hymn to the Unknown God: New Age Ministry of Religious Research


Maximilian: A Play in Five Acts (1902)
The Trifler (1908)
The Leaves of the Tree (1909)
The Locket (1910)
Eileen (1910)
The Bread of Idleness (1911)
Gettysburg, Manila, Acoma: Three Plays (1930)
Dramatic Duologues: Four Short Plays in Verse (1934)

Academy of American Poets
Poetry Foundation

Clarence Darrow

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The Robinson Library >> Linguistics, Languages, and Literatures >> American Literature >> 1900-1960

This page was last updated on 09/23/2017.