William Jay Smith

William Jay Smith (April 22, 1918 - August 18, 2015) was an American poet, critic, and translator. Born in Winnfield, Louisiana, Smith was brought up at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, south of St. Louis. He received his A.B. and M.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, and continued his studies at Columbia University, and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Smith served as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (the position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate) from 1968 until 1970. He became a member of The Academy of Arts and Letters since 1975, and served one term as vice-president for literature.

Smith was a poet in residence at Williams College from 1959–1967, Chairman of the Writing Division of the School of Arts at Columbia University from 1973 until 1975, and was the Professor Emeritus of English at Hollins College at the time of his death. He wrote ten collections of poetry, two of which were nominated for the National Book Award. Smith also wrote numerous children’s books, including Laughing Time: Collected Nonsense (1990) and Birds and Beasts (1990).

Although Smith was equally at home in most literary genres, he is probably best known today for his work as a translator and for the role he played in introducing the work of numerous foreign authors to English-speaking audiences, winning him awards from both the French Academy, the Swedish Academy, and the Hungarian government. Smith’s early work as a translator was directed towards French literature, including Poems of a Multimillionaire by Valery Larbaud (1955) and Selected Writings of Jules Laforgue (1956).

Go here to explore the finding aid for the William Jay Smith Papers at Washington University.

Modern Literature Collection: The First Fifty Years

William Jay Smith