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Stephen Vincent Benét (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American poet, short story writer, and novelist. He is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body (1928), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and for the short stories "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) and "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937). In 2009, The Library of America selected his story "The King of the Cats" (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub.
Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to James Walker Benét, a colonel in the United States Army. His grandfather and namesake led the Army Ordnance Corps from 1874 to 1891 as a brigadier general and served in the Civil War. His paternal uncle Laurence Vincent Benét was an ensign in the United States Navy during the Spanish–American War and later manufactured the French-Hotchkiss machine gun. At around the age of ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He graduated from Summerville Academy in Augusta, Georgia and from Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. He also edited and contributed light verse to the campus humor magazine The Yale Record. His first book was published when he was aged 17 and he was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis. He was also a part-time contributor to Time magazine in its early years. In 1920-21, Benét went to France on a Yale traveling fellowship, where he met Rosemary Carr; the couple married in Chicago in November 1921. Carr was also a writer and poet, and they collaborated on some works. In 1926, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship award and while living in Paris, wrote John Brown's Body.
Benét helped solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition. He published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker. He was elected a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1929, and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1931. Benét won the O. Henry Award on three occasions, for his short stories An End to Dreams in 1932, The Devil and Daniel Webster in 1937, and Freedom's a Hard-Bought Thing in 1940. He adapted his fantasy short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" as a play, The Devil and Daniel Webster: A Play in One Act (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1938), and also as a folk opera, The Devil and Daniel Webster: An Opera in One Act (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1939), with music by Douglas Moore. The story was filmed, for which he co-wrote the screenplay adaptation, but originally released as All That Money Can Buy (1941). Benét also wrote the sequel "Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent", in which Daniel Webster encounters Leviathan.
Benét died of a heart attack in New York City on March 13, 1943 at age 44. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut, where he had owned the historic Amos Palmer House. On April 17, 1943, NBC broadcast a special tribute to his life and works which included a performance by Helen Hayes. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Western Star, an unfinished narrative poem on the settling of the United States. Benét adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story "The Sobbin' Women". It was adapted as the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). His play John Brown's Body was staged on Broadway in 1953 in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, directed by Charles Laughton. The book was included in Life magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–44. Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee takes its title from the final phrase of Benét's poem "American Names".
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