Patchen, Kenneth

Born: December 13, 1911
Died: January 8, 1972

Ohio connection: Birth


Kenneth Patchen, son of Wayne and Eva Patchen, was born in 1911 in Niles, Ohio. He was active in sports and writing during his school years. After graduation, he worked in a steel mill and then attended the University of Wisconsin, 1928-29. From 1930 until 1933, he did a good deal of traveling while working as a farm laborer, gardener, and janitor. He began to do serious writing during this time, with his first publication being a sonnet called “Permanence”, which appeared in the New York Times in 1932. While living in Boston, he gave poetry readings and became acquainted with a number of writers, including Malcolm Cowley, Conrad Aiken, and John Wheelwright. In 1934, Patchen married Miriam Oikemus, an anti-war activist. Over the years, his writings received mixed reviews from literary critics, but wide popular approval, especially from young people. He was well-liked on college campuses during the Second World War, and his anti-war poetry was embraced by the younger generation during the Vietnam War. His poetry lashed out at what he perceived as hypocrisy and injustice in the world. In the 1950s, Patchen became well-known as part of the “beat generation”, often reading his poetry to the accompaniment of jazz music. Some of his poetry collections were Before the Brave, First Will & Testament, Cloth of the Tempest and Red Wine and Yellow Hair. He also wrote four novels: The Journal of Albion MoonlightThe Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer: An AmusementSleepers Awake; and See You in the Morning. He wrote a number of plays, one of which, Now You See It (Don’t Look Now), was produced Off-Off Broadway in 1966. Kenneth Patchen died of a heart attack January 8, 1972.

Guggenheim fellowship, 1936; Ohioana Book Award in poetry, 1944, for Cloth of the Tempest; Shelley Memorial Award, 1954; National Foundation on Arts and Humanities award, 1967, for lifelong contribution to American letters.