Richard Howard

Born: October 13, 1929

Died: March 31, 2022

Ohio connection: Birth


Born in 1929, Richard Joseph Howard held a distinguished place in contemporary American literature for his work as a poet, critic, and translator.  He was adopted as a baby, and it is not known who his biological parents were. It is said he could read before the age of three and developed an early love of poetry, deciding by age four that he wanted to be a poet.

After graduating from Shaker Heights High School, Howard attended Columbia University where he received a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952, subsequently studying at the Sorbonne as a Fellow of the French Government in 1952-53. He then began to devote his career to the translation of contemporary French literature. He translated more than seventy works of prose and poetry by many authors including Claude Simon, Andre Breton, Jules Renard, Andre Gide, Jean Cocteau, Albert Camus, Charles Baudelaire, Charles De Gaulle, and Honore de Balzac.

Howard was the author of more than twelve books of poetry including Untitled Subjects (1969), Trappings (1999), Talking Cures (2002), The Silent Treatment (2005), Without Saying (2008), and A Progressive Education (2014) as well as the critical study Alone with America and the critical prefaces of the anthology Preferences: 51 American Poets Choose Poems From Their Own Work and From the Past (1974). Howard’s poems are often dramatic monologues in which figures from history and literature speak directly to the reader. The voices of Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and other prominent creative artists are recreated as they speak about their live and times.

As a translator, he is credited with introducing modern French fiction — particularly examples of the Nouveau Roman — to the American public, while his translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal won a National Book Award in 1984.  As a critic, Howard’s collection of essays entitled Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 was praised for its comprehensive overview of recent American poetry.

Notably, his work as a poet earned Howard a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his collection Untitled Subjects. Howard was a Professor of Writing at Columbia starting in 1997 and had previously taught at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Houston. He reviewed regularly for The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times, and many other literary magazines.

Howard passed away on March 31, 2022. His husband, David Alexander, informed the public that Howard suffered from dementia.

Guggenheim fellow, 1966-67; Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, 1969; National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, 1970; Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 1970, for Untitled Subjects; Levinson Prize, Poetry magazine, 1973; Cleveland Arts Prize, 1974; American Book Award nomination, 1979, for translation of A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters medal for poetry, 1980; American Book Award, 1983, for translation of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire; PEN American Center medal for translation, 1986; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1987; France- America Foundation Award for translation, 1987; New York State Poet Laureate, 1994-96; Lifetime Achievement Award, National Book Critics Circle, 2003; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2004, for Paper Trail: Selected Prose, 1965-2003; Los Angeles Times Book Award for poetry, 2004, for Inner Voices: Selected Poems, 1963-2003; Ordre National du Mérite, government of France; PEN Translation medal; Academy of American Poets fellowship; MacArthur Foundation fellowship. In 2016, Howard received the Philolexian Society Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement.

Additional Resources

Richard Howard article on Wikipedia with additional resources