Stephen Vincent Benét was born July 22, 1898, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, into a military family. His father had a wide appreciation for literature, and Benét’s siblings, William Rose and Laura, also became writers. Benét attended Yale University where he published two collections of poetry: Five Men and Pompey (1915), and The Drug-Shop (1917). His studies were interrupted by a year of civilian-military service; he worked as a cipher-clerk in the same department as James Thurber. He graduated from Yale in 1919, submitting his third volume of poems in place of a thesis. He published his first novel The Beginning of Wisdom in 1921. Benét then moved to France to continue his studies at the Sorbonne and returned to the United States in 1923 with his new wife, the writer Rosemary Carr.
Benét was successful in many different literary forms, which included novels, short stories, screenplays, radio broadcasts, and a libretto for an opera by Douglas Moore based on “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” His most famous work is the long poem John Brown’s Body for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1929—a long narrative poem that interweaves historical and fictional characters to relate important events in the Civil War, from the raid on Harper’s Ferry to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. During his lifetime, Benét also received the O. Henry Story Prize, the Roosevelt Medal, and a second Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for the posthumously-published Western Star, the first part of an epic poem based on American history. At the age of 44, Benét suffered a heart attack and died on March 13, 1943, in New York City.