Born: February 27, 1925
Died: July 6, 2002
Ohio connection: Birth
Kenneth Koch, son of Stuart J. and Lillian Amy (Loth) Koch, was born in 1925 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He began writing poetry in his early years, with inspiration from favorites Keats and Shelley. He later served in the United States Army in the Philippines. Upon his return, he went to Harvard University, where he graduated with an A.B. degree in 1948. He went on to receive an M.A. in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1959, both from Columbia University. He married Mary Janice Elwood in 1954. They had one child, Katherine. Mary Koch died in 1981, and Kenneth Koch married Karen Culler in 1994. Koch began his career as a lecturer at Rutgers University, 1953-58. He also lectured at Brooklyn College, 1957-59, before moving to Columbia University, where he served as assistant professor, associate professor, and professor of English from 1959 until his retirement. Koch published his first books of poetry in the 1960s, but his poetry did not receive popular acclaim until the 1970s, with the publication of The Art of Love: Poems. He won the Bollingen Prize in American Poetry in 1995, after publication of two highly-regarded books of poetry in 1994: One Train and On the Great Atlantic Rainway: Selected Poems, 1950-1988. He won the Phi Beta Kappa Poetry Award for New Addresses in 2000. He also wrote books on poetry education for children, adults, and the elderly, beginning with Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, in 1970. He published hundreds of avant-garde plays during his fifty-year career. One collection, called 1000 Avant-Garde Plays (1988), actually contains 116 plays, some only a few minutes in length. He was also the author of a collection of short stories, Hotel Lambosa and Other Stories, and a novel, The Red Robins. Kenneth Koch died of leukemia July 6, 2002.
Fulbright fellow, 1950-51, 1978, and 1982; Guggenheim fellow, 1960-61; grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1966; Ingram Merrill Foundation fellow, 1969; Harbison Award, 1970, for teaching; Frank O’Hara Prize, 1973, for Poetry; Christopher Book Award and Ohioana Book Award, both 1974, both for Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children; National Institute of Arts and Letters award, 1976; Award of Merit for Poetry, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1986; National Book Critics Circle nomination, 1988, for 1000 Avant-garde Plays; Bollingen Prize, Yale University, 1995; elected member, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1995; Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, Library of Congress, 1996, for One Train