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Louis Simpson was born in Jamaica, West Indies, in 1923, the son of a lawyer of Scottish descent and a Russian mother. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 17, studied at Columbia University, then served in the Second World War with the 101st Airborne Division on active duty in France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. After the war he continued his studies at Columbia and at the University of Paris. While living in France he published his first book of poems, The Arrivistes (1949). He worked as an editor in a publishing house in New York, then earned a Ph.D. at Columbia and went on to teach at Columbia, the University of California at Berkeley, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
In 1975 the publication of Three on the Tower, a study of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams, brought Simpson wide acclaim as a literary critic. His other books of criticism include Ships Going Into the Blue: Essays and Notes on Poetry (1994), The Character of the Poet (1986), A Company of Poets (1981), and A Revolution in Taste: Studies of Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell (1978).
Louis Simpson has published numerous books of poetry, most recently The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems, 1940-2001 (BOA Editions, 2003), which was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize; a new collection, Struggling Times (BOA Editions, 2009); and his first UK edition for over 25 years, Voices in the Distance: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2010).
His earlier books include In the Room We Share (1990), Collected Poems (1988), People Live Here: Selected Poems 1949-83 (1983), The Best Hour of the Night (1983), Caviar at the Funeral (1980), Armidale (1979), Searching for the Ox (1976), Adventures of the Letter I (1971), Selected Poems (1965), At the End of the Open Road (1963) and A Dream of Governors (1959). At the End of the Open Road won him a Pulitzer Prize. His other books include a memoir, The King My Father's Wreck (Story Line, 1995), Selected Prose (1989), and Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology (Story Line Press), winner of the Academy of American Poets' 1998 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. Among his many other honours are the Prix de Rome, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Columbia Medal for Excellence. Louis Simpson lives in Setauket, Long Island, New York.