Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 — July 22, 1967) was an American writer and editor, best known for his poetry. He was the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and another for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. H. L. Mencken called Sandburg “indubitably an American in every pulse-beat”.
Sandburg was born in the three-room cottage at 313 East Third Street in Galesburg, Illinois, to parents of Swedish ancestry. At the age of thirteen he left school and began driving a milk wagon. From the age of about fourteen until he was seventeen or eighteen, he worked as a porter at the Union Hotel barbershop in Galesburg. After that he was on the milk route again for eighteen months. He then became a bricklayer and a farm laborer on the wheat plains of Kansas. After an interval spent at Lombard College in Galesburg, he became a hotel servant in Denver, then a coal-heaver in Omaha. He began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Later he wrote poetry, history, biographies, novels, children’s literature, and film reviews. Sandburg also collected and edited books of ballads and folklore. He spent most of his life in the Midwest before moving to North Carolina.
Sandburg volunteered to go to the military and was stationed in Puerto Rico with the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish–American War, disembarking at Guánica, Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. Sandburg was never actually called to battle. He attended West Point for just two weeks, before failing a mathematics and grammar exam. Sandburg returned to Galesburg and entered Lombard College, but left without a degree in 1903.
He moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and joined the Social Democratic Party, the name by which the Socialist Party of America was known in the state. Sandburg served as a secretary to Emil Seidel, socialist mayor of Milwaukee from 1910 to 1912.
Sandburg met Lilian Steichen at the Social Democratic Party office in 1907, and they married the next year. Lilian’s brother was the photographer Edward Steichen. Sandburg with his wife, whom he called Paula, raised three daughters.
The Sandburgs moved to Harbert, Michigan, and then to suburban Chicago, Illinois. They lived in Evanston, Illinois, before settling at 331 S. York Street in Elmhurst, Illinois, from 1919 to 1930. Sandburg wrote three children’s books in Elmhurst, Rootabaga Stories, in 1922, followed by Rootabaga Pigeons (1923), and Potato Face (1930). Sandburg also wrote Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, a two-volume biography in 1926, The American Songbag (1927), and a book of poems called Good Morning, America (1928) in Elmhurst. The family moved to Michigan in 1930. The Sandburg house at 331 W. York Street, Elmhurst was demolished and the site is now a parking lot.
Sandburg’s collection, The War Years was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. His Complete Poems won him a second Pulitzer Prize in 1951.
In 1945 he moved to Connemara, a 246-acre rural estate in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Here he produced a little over a third of his total published work, and lived with his wife, daughters, and two grandchildren until dying of natural causes in 1967.
Sandburg had his ashes interred under “Remembrance Rock”, a 5-foot-high granite boulder located behind his birth house.
Sandburg supported the civil rights movement, and contributed to the NAACP.
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