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Carl Sandburg  

Poet, historian, folksinger, newspaperman, storyteller, Carl Sandburg led a rich and varied life. He holds a special place in American letters
Last Updated: Oct 27, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)


Brief Biography

A man of many talents, Carl Sandburg was born on January 6, 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois to immigrants from Sweden who met and married in the United States.  Sandburg was one of seven children.  In order to help his family, he left school at the age of 13 and began working.  He spent over ten years working a variety of jobs.  When he was 19, he left home, jumped on a passing freight train and travelled as a hobo.   His hard work as a laborer sparked his interest in the plight of working people and led to his interest in socialism.  In 1898, he joined the army and served as a private in the Spanish-American war.  He was sent to Puerto Rico, but saw no military action.  After the war, he returned to his home in Galesburg.   Because he was a veteran, he was permitted to enroll as a special student at Lombard College.  A sympathetic professor, Phillip Green Wright, encouraged Sandburg's interest in poetry and at his own expense, published three slim volumes of Sandburg's free verse.  Sandburg left college his senior year before graduating.  Later in life, he was the recipient of several honorary degrees.  In 1907, he worked as an organizer for the Wisconsin Social Democratic party.  At party headquarters in Milwaukee, he met and married Lilian Steichen, the sister of noted photographer Edward Steichen.  The two men would become life-long friends.  From 1909 to 1913,  Sandburg wrote and edited several newspapers and magazines.  In 1914, his poems were published in "Poetry: A Magazine of Verse".  He begins to build a reputation as a talented poet.  His first real book, "Chicago Poems," was published in 1916.  He would continue to publish poetry until 1963, when he was 85.

Sandburg was also a performer.  He learned American folk songs during his days as a hobo.  He was an engaging performer, singing songs while playing his guitar.  He would also read his poetry and prose.  In 1926, he published a two volume biography of Lincoln, entitled "The Prairie Years."   He continued to research Lincoln's life: in 1939 his four volume work "Abraham Lincoln: The War Years" was published.  This work earned him the Pulitzer Prize in history.   In 1950, his book of complete poems earned him the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.

Sandburg also wrote for children..  In 1922, his book of children's tales, "Rootabaga Stories" was published.   The next year his "Rootabaga Pigeons" was published.   In 1927 , he published "The American Songbag."   In 1929, he published a biography of Edward Steichen, his brother-in law.  Always busy, he wrote a syndicated weekly wartime news colunm during the years 1942, 43.   In 1945, he and his family moved to a large farm in North Carolina where his wife raised dairy goats.  In 1953, he published an autobiography covering the first twenty years of his life.  Throughout most of the 1950's he travelled the country lecturing, writing, reciting poetry and singing.  In 1959, he delivered the Lincoln Day address before a joint session of the United States Congress.  In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Finally his productive life came to an end in 1967 when he died at his home in North Carolina at the age of 89.  His ashes were buried at his birthplace in Galesburg.   His wife lived until 1977.  Her ashes joined his after she died.  Their remains are buried near a large boulder called "Remembrance Rock."  The house and grounds are now a state park.  The family home  in North Carolina is preserved by the National Park Service where it is open to the public.   His large collection of papers, correspondence and manuscripts are housed at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

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