The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> American Literature >> 1900-1960
Carl Sandburg

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, biographer, etc.

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878, the son of poor Swedish immigrants. He left school at the age of 13 to work odd jobs to help support his family. At 17 he traveled west to Kansas as a hobo. He then served eight months in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, but never saw combat.

Returning to Galesburg in 1898, Sandburg was convinced by a friend to enroll in Lombard College. It was here that Sandburg was first encouraged to pursue poetry, by Professor Philip Green Wright, who also paid for the publication of Sandburg's first volume of poetry, Reckless Ecstasy (1904). Sandburg left Lombard in 1902 without receiving a degree.

After college, Sandburg moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he worked as an advertising writer and a newspaper reporter. He also became active in Socialist Party politics, working in the presidential campaign of Eugene V. Debs. He married Lillian Steichen in 1908.

In 1913, Sandburg moved his family to a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, where he became an editorial writer for the Chicago Daily News.

In 1928, Sandburg moved his family to Harbert, Michigan. He moved again in 1943, this time to a farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina. He died in Flat Rock on July 22, 1967.

His Poetry

Sandburg's poetry first appeared in Harriet Monroe's magazine Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.

Sandburg's first poetic success came with "Chicago" (1914), which portrays the brutality and ugliness he saw in Chicago cities. The Levinson Prize, awarded by Poetry in 1914, established Sandburg as an important new voice in literature.

Chicago Poems (1916) was his first major collection of poems.

Sandburg was too old to serve in the military during World War I, but he went abroad to serve as a foreign correspondent. He documented his war experiences in Cornhuskers (1918).

In his dramatic short poems "Grass" (1918) and "A.E.F." (1920), Sandburg protested against the folly and waste of war.

In his long free-verse poem The People, Yes (1936), Sandburg included tall tales about such fictional and real characters such as Paul Bunyan and Christopher Columbus. He ended the poem with the American people vigorously on the march, seeking new forms of self-expression, and asking the questions, "Where to? What next?"

His Complete Poems (1950) won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

His Prose

To Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln represented all that was best in the American character, and the Civil War was the most important event in American history. From 1920 to 1939, he wrote six volumes of history about Lincoln and the Civil War. In Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (two volumes, 1926), he dealt with Lincoln's career up to his election as President. Then, in Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (four volumes, 1939), he provided one of the fullest accounts of Lincoln's presidency ever written. For this work, Sandburg received the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Other Works

The Chicago Race Riots (1919)
Smoke and Steel (1920)
Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922)
Rootabaga Stories (1922)--a collection of humorous stories for children
Rootabaga Pigeons (1923)--a collection of humorous stories for children
The American Songbag (1927)--a collection of American ballads, folk tales, and legends
Good Morning, America (1928)
Abe Lincoln Grows Up (1928)--a biography of Lincoln written especially for young readers
Steichen, The Photographer (1929)
Early Moon (1930)
Potato Face (1930)--a collection of humorous stories for children
Mary Lincoln, Wife and Widow (1932)--with P.M. Angle
Bronze Wood (1941)
Storm Over the Land (1942)
Poems of the Midwest (1946)
Remembrance Rock (1948)--a historical novel
New American Songbag (1950)--another collection of American ballads, folk tales, and legends
Always the Young Strangers (1953)--his autobiography
Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960)
Honey and Salt (1963)


The Academy of American Poets
Carl Sandburg--Chicago Poems
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

See Also

Spanish-American War
Eugene V. Debs
World War I
Abraham Lincoln
Civil War

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> American Literature >> 1900-1960

This page was last updated on 01/06/2019.