Edward Estlin Cummings was born to Edward Cummings and Rebecca Haswell Clarke, who were Unitarian.
His father was a Harvard professor, and Cummings grew up in a privileged and happy household — he said, "As it was my miraculous fortune to have a true father and a true mother, and a home which the truth of their love made joyous, so — in reaching outward from this love and this joy — I was marvelously lucky to touch and seize a rising and striving world." At times he rebelled against the strict Christian morality and academic world of his parents. He wrote in one early poem: "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls / are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds." He said, "I led a double life, getting drunk and feeling up girls but lying about this to my Father and taking his money all the time." He graduated from Harvard, enlisted in the Ambulance Corps, and then moved to Greenwich Village to write poetry. His Harvard friend John Dos Passos used his influence to find a publisher for Cummings's first book of poems, Tulips and Chimneys (1923). Cummings complained that the editor cut the manuscript down from 152 poems to 66, and took out the ampersand in the title to write out the word "and." One critic said that his poems were "hideous on the page," and another corrected all his punctuation when she quoted him. He continued to publish books, but 12 years after his first collection of poems had come out, Cummings was still unable to find a publisher for his newest manuscript. He ended up self-publishing it with financial help from his mother — he titled it No Thanks (1935) and dedicated it to the 14 publishing houses who had rejected the book.
Slowly, his fame grew. His Collected Poems (1938) was a big success, but his six-month royalty checks were small — one for $14.94, another for $9.75. His mother still gave him a monthly check to help pay his living expenses. He started giving poetry readings, and by the last decade of his life, Cummings was a celebrity. His poetry readings were hugely popular, sold-out events — he packed venues from college campuses to theaters. He charmed his audiences — reading energetically, lingering on individual words, striding around the stage as he spoke, and timing his readings to the second. In 1957, he read to a crowd of 7,000 in Boston. During a reading at Bennington College in Vermont, the huge crowd of students greeted him by reciting his poem about Buffalo Bill en masse. The crowds were so enthusiastic that Cummings had to establish what he called "rules of engagement": he refused to autograph books or attend dinners or other social functions. He sometimes sneaked out after readings by what he called a "secretbackentrance." Young women came up to him on the streets of New York to give him bouquets of flowers, or left them on the doorstep of his Greenwich Village apartment.
Spouse(s) Elaine Orr, Anne Minnerly Barton &bMarion Morehouse
Children Nancy, daughter with Elaine Orr
By the time of his death in 1962, he was the second most widely read poet in America, after Robert Frost.
Have you taken a DNA test for genealogy? If so, login to add it. If not, see our friends at Ancestry DNA.
Estlin is 29 degrees from Rosa Parks, 25 degrees from Anne Tichborne and 19 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.