Regarded by many scholars as the inventor of the detective story and architect of the modern short story and as the author of well known poems, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809, the son of professional actors. Poe's parents died before he was three years old and he was raised as a forster child by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia. Allan was a well to do tobacco exporter who sent the young Poe to excellent boarding schools but who did not properly support Poe while he was a student at the University of Virginia. Despite being an excellent student, Poe had to leave the University after less than one year at school. Poe never got along with Allan and in 1827, he moved to Boston where he enlisted in the army. Poe was in the army for two years, and rose to the rank of regimental sergeant major. He was honorably discharged in 1829. While a soldier, he published two collections of poetry. He was admitted to West Point, but was forced to resign due to insufficient funds. He moved to New York where another collection of poetry was published in 1831. He then moved to Baltimore where he lived with his aunt and her daughter, Virginia. While in Baltimore, Poe sold short stories to magazines and in 1835 became the editor of the "Southern Literary Messenger" in Richmond where he moved with his aunt and cousin, Virginia. In 1836, he married Virginia who was fourteen years old. The marriage was a happy one and Poe's family life with his young wife and aunt was rewarding. Poe continued to publish poetry and literary criticism. His critical reviews were ahead of his time, as he focused on the language of the work and the affect on the reader. Over time, he formulated a theory of literary creation which he applied to himself as well as the works he reviewed.
Poe is known for his tales of horror--short stories that are often written in the first person and which probe the psyche of the narrator. Famous stories include "The Black Cat," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Cask of Amontillado." Poe used symbolism in his gothic tales: "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "The Masque of the Red Death," are two well known and widely read stories. Poe is also known as the "inventor" of two other popular genres; the detective story and science fiction. Stories such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Purloined Letter," and "The Mystery of Marie Roget," are good examples of Poe's detective stories. Science fiction stories include "The Unparalleled Adventure of Hans Pfaall" and "Von Kempelen and His Discovery."
Poe also wrote poetry. His poems were carefully constructed and in some cases were meant to be read aloud. Perhaps the best example of this is his famous poem "The Raven," which was widely read and admired in his own time. Other famous poems are "To Helen," and "Lenore."
Despite Poe's work as an editor and writer, he was always strapped for money. He supported himself and his small family by editing magazines. He never earned very much from his own work, despite the success of "The Raven." After the death of his wife from tuberculosis in 1847, he went into a slow decline. He began to drink more ( always a problem) and became involved in a number of romantic affairs. He was preparing for his second marriage when he was discovered in an semi-conscious state in Baltimore in October, 1849. He died a few days later without regaining full consciousness. What exactly happened to him remains a mystery. He is buried in Baltimore. He was only 40 years old at the time of his death.