Per capita, few communities boast as much homegrown literary talent as Austin, Minnesota. Local standouts include National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien and bestselling YA novelist Amanda Hocking. Austin also lays claim to Minnesota’s newest Literary Landmark honoree, world-renowned poet Richard G. Eberhart.
What is a Literary Landmark?
If you are new to MALF, you may be unfamiliar with the term. In short, a Literary Landmark is a site with some strong historical connection to a prominent and influential American author. They are identified and dedicated through a joint partnership between United for Libraries and local affiliates like the Minnesota Association of Library Friends.
Examples range widely, from the birthplaces of Walt Whitman and Ernest Hemmingway, to a Mississippi church that inspired the writings of playwright Tennessee Williams, to the final resting place of illustrator Randolph Caldecott (namesake of literature’s Caldecott Medal).
In total, there are currently over 160 such sites across the country. Minnesota claims seven, thanks in large part to MALF. Recent additions include the boyhood home of Sinclair Lewis in Sauk Centre, and Vermilion Community College, home of conservationist Sigurd Olson. (You can find a complete list on our website, mnlibraryfriends.org.)
Richard Eberhart: 2017 Honoree
Mower County’s famous native son is a worthy addition to these esteemed ranks. Born in Austin in 1904, Eberhart spent his formative years at the family’s 40-acre estate just outside of town. While he enjoyed a privileged and happy childhood, financial setbacks and the unexpected death of his mother marred his later adolescence.
As fans of Eberhart’s work are quick to point out, much of his Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning poetry is inspired by both the highlights and travails of this childhood in Austin. Particularly evident are his lifelong fascination with nature, exploration of fate, and fixation with the mysteries of death. Given this focus, contemporary and modern critics alike compare Eberhart – usually quite favorably – to William Wordsworth and the other nineteenth-century English masters of Romanticism.
Eberhart’s journey to worldwide acclaim took him from Minnesota first to Dartmouth College (his future academic home) and later to Cambridge. After completing his coursework, Eberhart visited exotic locales (including most notably Siam, where he spent 1930 as personal tutor to the son of King Prajadhipok). Once back statewide, he quickly made a name for himself as a thoughtful teacher of English and poetry – and an up-and-coming poet in his own right.
After an interlude during which Eberhart served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Dartmouth appointment him poet-in-residence. He would remain with the institution, in some capacity, until his death in 2005 at the ripe old age of 101. At various times, Eberhart also doubled as poet laureate for the state of New Hampshire, official poet consultant for the Library of Congress, and a member of important federal advisory committees dedicated to the arts.
Over this long and fruitful academic career, Eberhart found time to publish a dozen books of poetry. Standouts include Burr Oak (1947), named after his childhood estate in Austin; Selected Poems, 1930-1965, winner of the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Collected Poems, 1930-1976, winner of the National Book Award.
Poems held in particularly high regard today include “The Groundhog,” a rumination on mortality and the uniqueness of human consciousness, and "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment," an ode to wartime loss inspired by his own WWII experiences.
In partnership with the Friends of the Austin Library, MALF will christen Eberhart’s hometown as America’s newest Literary Landmark on Monday, April 17. That official dedication will include a special program and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque. Literary Landmark events are free and open to the public, and we would love to see you there. Please stay tuned for further details!