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Stephen Vincent Benét (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American author, poet, short story writer, and novelist. Benét is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for two short stories, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and "By the Waters of Babylon".

Life and career

Benét was born into an Army family in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvaniamarker. His father and namesake lead the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, 1874 - 1891, with the rank of Brigadier General.

Benet spent most of his boyhood in Benicia, Californiamarker. At the age of about ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. A graduate of The Albany Academy in Albany, New Yorkmarker and Yale Universitymarker, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. Benet published his book at age 17. He was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis.Benet was also a part-time contributor for the early Time magazine.

Benet help solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition.Benet published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker.

Benet's fantasy short story, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1937), won an O. Henry Award. He furnished the material for Scratch, a one-act opera by Douglas Moore. The story was filmed in 1941 and shown originally under the title All That Money Can Buy. Benét also wrote a sequel, Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent, in which real-life historic figure Webster encounters the Leviathan of biblical legend.

Benét maintained a home (commonly referred to as Benét House), in Augusta, Georgia. Part of Augusta College (now Augusta State University) it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

Benét died of a heart attack in New York Citymarker at the age of 44. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Western Star, an unfinished narrative poem on the settling of America.

It was a line of Benet's poetry that gave the title to Dee Brown's famous history of the destruction of Native American tribes by the United States, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

He also adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story, The Sobbin' Women, which in turn was adapted into the movie musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

John Brown's Body was staged on Broadwaymarker in 1953, in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, and directed by Charles Laughton.

Benet fathered three children. His brother, William Rose Benét, was a poet, anthologist and critic who is largely remembered for his desk reference, Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia (1948).

Selected works

  • Five Men and Pompey, 1915
  • The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun (Yale University Prize Poem), 1917
  • Young Adventure, 1918 ( full text)
  • Heavens and Earth, 1920
  • The Beginnings of Wisdom, 1921
  • Young People's Pride, 1922
  • Jean Huguenot, 1923
  • The Ballad of William Sycamore, 1923
  • King David, 1923
  • Nerves, 1924 (with John Farrar)
  • That Awful Mrs. Eaton, 1924 (with John Farrar)
  • Tiger Joy, 1925
  • The Mountain Whippoorwill: How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler's Prize, 1925 ( full text)
  • Spanish Bayonet, 1926
  • John Brown's Body, 1928
  • The Barefoot Saint, 1929
  • The Litter of Rose Leaves, 1930
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1930 (screenplay with Gerrit Lloyd)
  • Ballads and Poems, 1915-1930, 1931
  • A Book of Americans, 1933 (with Rosemary Carr Benét)
  • James Shore's Daughter, 1934
  • The Burning City, 1936 (includes 'Litany for Dictatorships')
  • The Magic of Poetry and the Poet's Art, 1936
  • By the Waters of Babylon, 1937
  • The Headless Horseman, 1937
  • Thirteen O'Clock, 1937
  • Johnny Pye and the Fool Killer, 1938
  • Tales Before Midnight, 1939
  • The Ballad of the Duke's Mercy, 1939
  • Nightmare at Noon, 1940
  • Elementals, 1940-41 (broadcast)
  • Freedom's Hard-Bought Thing, 1941 (broadcast)
  • Listen to the People, 1941
  • A Summons to the Free, 1941
  • Cheers for Miss Bishop, 1941 (screenplay with Adelaide Heilbron, Sheridan Gibney)
  • They Burned the Books, 1942
  • Selected Works, 1942 (2 vols.)
  • Short Stories, 1942
  • Nightmare at Noon, 1942 (in The Treasury Star Parade, ed. by William A. Bacher)
  • A Child is Born, 1942 (broadcast)
  • They Burned the Books, 1942 (broadcast)

These works were published posthumously:

  • Western Star, 1943 (unfinished)
  • Twenty Five Short Stories, 1943
  • America, 1944
  • O'Halloran's Luck and Other Short Stories, 1944
  • We Stand United, 1945 (radio scripts)
  • The Bishop's Beggar, 1946
  • The Last Circle, 1946
  • Selected Stories, 1947
  • From the Earth to the Moon, 1958


  1. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 12, Micropaedia, 15th edition, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. c. 1989
  3. Bradley, George. The Yale Younger Poets Anthology, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, pp. 23 - 53

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