For more than 250 years, Princeton alumni have earned some of the most distinguished titles in America, so when an alumnus becomes the first Princetonian to hold a given post, it tends to be a remarkable achievement. That was the case June 1 when the Library of Congress revealed that William Stanley Merwin ’48 (better known to readers as W.S.) would be the 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States.

Librarian of Congress James Billington ’50, who made the announcement, said that Merwin's poems "are often profound and, at the same time, accessible to a vast audience. He leads us upstream from the flow of everyday things in life to half-hidden headwaters of wisdom about life itself."

Merwin has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry twice, in 1971 for The Carrier of Ladders and in 2009 for The Shadow of Sirius, and former National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia told The Washington Post that Merwin was "an inevitable choice" for poet laureate. (For the record, one other Princeton alumnus, William Meredith ’40, served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978-80, before the "poet laureate" designation was given.)

Though Merwin lives in relative seclusion on a former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, he travels to the mainland at least twice a year for readings and appearances. He read at Princeton in April as part of the creative writing program's yearlong 70th anniversary celebration.

AUDIO: Listen to Merwin's July 1 interview with NPR's Melissa Block

(Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

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