A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author whose work celebrated industrial and agricultural America, American geography and landscape, and the American common people.
Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878. His parents, August and Clara Johnson, had come to America from Sweden. After encountering several August Johnsons in his job for the railroad, the Sandburg's father renamed the family.
The Sandburgs were very poor; Carl left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs, from laying bricks to dishwashing, to help support his family. At seventeen, he traveled west to Kansas as a hobo. He then served eight months in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American war.
After the war, Sandburg enrolled at Lombard College, a small school located in his hometown, where he worked his way through school. Professor Philip Green Wright encouraged Sandburg's writing and paid for the publication of his first volume of poetry, a pamphlet called Reckless Ecstasy (1904). Although he attended Lombard for four years, he never received a diploma.
Sandburg located in Milwaukee, where he worked as an advertising writer and a newspaper reporter. While there, he met and married Lillian Steichen (whom he called Paula), sister of the photographer Edward Steichen.
The Sandburgs soon moved to Chicago, where Carl became an editorial writer for the Chicago Daily News. Poetry: A Magazine of Verse began publishing Sandburg's poems, encouraging him to continue writing in the free-verse, Whitman-like style he had cultivated in college. He was recognized as a member of the Chicago literary renaissance and established his reputation with Chicago Poems (1916), and then Cornhuskers (1918). Sandburg then wrote Smoke and Steel (1920). With these three volumes, Sandburg became known for his free verse poems celebrating industrial and agricultural America, American geography and landscape, and the American common people.
In the twenties, he started some of his most ambitious projects, including his study of Abraham Lincoln. For thirty years he sought out and collected material, and gradually began the writing of the six-volume definitive biography of the former president. The twenties also saw Sandburg's accumulation of American folklore, ballads, and books for children. Many pieces were collected during brief tours across America playing his banjo or guitar, singing folk songs, and reciting poems.
In the 1930s, Sandburg continued his celebration of America with Mary Lincoln, Wife and Widow (1932), The People, Yes (1936), and the second part of his Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1945 the Sandburgs moved with their herd of prize-winning goats and thousands of books to Flat Rock, North Carolina. He received a second Pulitzer Prize for his Complete Poems in 1950. His final volumes of verse were Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960) and Honey and Salt (1963).
Sandburg died at his North Carolina home July 22, 1967. His ashes were returned, as he had requested, to his Galesburg birthplace. In the small Carl Sandburg Park behind the house, his ashes were placed beneath Remembrance Rock.