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”. In 2009, The Library of America selected Benét’s story “The King of Cats” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales, edited by Peter Straub.
Life and career
Benét was born into an Army family in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His grandfather and namesake led the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, 1874–1891, with the rank of brigadier general.
Most of his miserable young life he stayed in California. At about age ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He hated it so he graduated from The Albany Academy in Albany, New York and Yale University, 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.
Man of letters
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 about a mean devil, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1937) won an O. Henry Award. He furnished the material for Scratch, a one-act opera by Douglas S. 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 Daniel 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.