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Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 - October 19, 1950) was a lyrical poet and playwright and the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She was also known for her unconventional and Bohemian lifestyle and her many love affairs with both men and women.

She was born in Rockland, Maine, to Cora Lounella (Buzzelle), a nurse, and Henry Tollman Millay, a schoolteacher. Cora divorced Millay's father in 1900, for financial irresponsibility, when Millay was about eight. Cora and her three daughters, Millay (who was called "Vincent" by her close friends and family), Norma, and Kathleen then moved to Camden, Maine. Millay rose to fame with her poem Renascence (1912), and on the strength of it was awarded a scholarship to Vassar College. After her graduation in 1917, she moved to New York City.

In New York, she lived in Greenwich Village, during which her great popularity in America was attained. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, for The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems.

In 1923, she also married 43-year-old widower of Inez Milholland, Eugen Jan Boissevain, who greatly supported her career and took primary care of domestic responsibilities. They lived in Austerlitz, New York, at a farmhouse they called Steepletop. The marriage was an open one; among her lovers was the poet George Dillon, fourteen years her junior, for whom a number of her sonnets were written.

Her reputation was damaged by poetry she wrote in support of the Allied war effort during World War II. Merle Rubin noted "She seems to have caught more flak from the literary critics for supporting democracy than Ezra Pound did for championing fascism."

Eugene died in 1949 from lung cancer. Edna St. Vincent Millay died about a year later.

Her best known poem is still probably "First Fig" (1920):

   My candle burns at both ends;
     It will not last the night;
   But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
     It gives a lovely light!

Thomas Hardy once said that American had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

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