Wallace James Stevens was born on October 2nd, 1879 in Reading, Pennsylvania. His father, a lawyer, sent Wallace to Harvard as a non-degree special student, after which he moved to New York City and worked briefly as a journalist. From there he attended New York Law School and graduated in 1903. On a trip home to Reading in 1904 Stevens met Elsie Viola Kachel, a young woman who had worked as a saleswoman, milliner, and stenographer.
After working for several New York law firms from 1904 to 1907, he was hired in as a lawyer for the American Bonding Company. After a long 6 year courtship Wallace and Elsie married in 1909 over the objections of his parents, who considered her lower-class. For Wallace it was a seismic event; he never spoke to his parents again whilst his father was alive. No one from the family attended the wedding. By 1914 Wallace had become the vice-president of the New York office of the Equitable Surety Company of St. Louis, Missouri. When this job was abolished as a result of mergers in 1916, he joined Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company and they moved to Hartford.
In 1917 Wallace and Elsie moved to 210 Farmington Avenue where they remained for the next seven years and where he completed his first book of poems, Harmonium. Wallace was 38. His career was not prodigious in quantity but its quality was exceptional. From January 1922 onwards, initially for business, Wallace made several visits to Key West, Florida, where he stayed at a hotel on the Atlantic Ocean. “The place is a paradise,” he wrote to Elsie, “midsummer weather, the sky brilliantly clear and intensely blue, the sea blue and green beyond what you have ever seen.”
By 1932 they had purchased a 1920s Colonial at 118 Westerly Terrace in Hartford and there resided for the remainder of their lives. By 1934, Wallace had been named vice-president of the company. On March 28 1955 Stevens first went to see Dr. James Moher. The examination revealed nothing so Wallace underwent an x-ray and barium enema on April 1st. Neither showed anything. On April 19th he underwent a G.I. series that revealed diverticulitis, a gallstone, and a severely bloated stomach. Wallace was admitted to St. Francis Hospital and underwent an operation on April 26th. Wallace was suffering from stomach cancer. Released on May 11th he returned home to recuperate. On May 20th Wallace entered the Avery Convalescent Hospital. In early June he had recovered some strength and embarked on a series of journeys to receive honorary Doctorates ay Hartford and Yale.
Wallace was readmitted on July 21st to St. Francis Hospital where his condition deteriorated. On August 1st he lapsed into a coma and died on August 2nd 1955 at the age of 75. He is buried in Hartford's Cedar Hill Cemetery. Stevens is a rare example of a poet whose main output came at a fairly advanced age. His first major publication (four poems from a sequence entitled “Phases” in the November 1914 edition of Poetry Magazine) was written at age 35, although as an undergraduate at Harvard, Stevens had written poetry much of his greatest works were written well after he turned 50. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955. After his win he was offered a faculty position at Harvard but declined since it would have required him to give up his vice-presidency of The Hartford.