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November 2017


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U.S. Census Bureau History: American Poets

Emily Dickinson

American poet Emily Dickinson was born 187 years ago on December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA.
During her lifetime, the reclusive poet wrote nearly 1,800 poems, but the vast majority would
not be published until after her May 1886 death.

December marks the anniversary of several milestones in the lives of some of America's greatest authors and poets. Born on December 6, 1886, Alfred Joyce Kilmer was a gregarious New Brunswick, NJ, native, journalist, poet, and literary critic. He was a popular poet and author when he joined the U.S. Army soon after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. Kilmer died at age 31 during the Second Battle of Marne, on July 30, 1818. His poem Trees ("I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree . . .") is often associated with Arbor Day observances and forest preservation campaigns.

On December 10, poetry fans celebrate the 187th birthday of Amherst, MA, poet Emily Dickinson. Unlike Kilmer, Dickinson received little recognition during her lifetime. The 1850 and 1860 censuses provide a glimpse into the reclusive author's most prolific years. Records from the 1870 and 1880 censuses provide additional details about the author in the decades before her 1886 death.

Popular abolitionist author John Greenleaf Whittier celebrates his 210 birthday on December 17. More than 150 years after the publication of Whittier's narrative poem, Snow-Bound, readers still find the story about a family reminiscing around a fire to be a familiar scene.

As the month nears its end, many children will listen to or recite some of the most popular "December-related" prose ever written—Clement Clarke Moore's poem A Visit From St. Nicholas. The Troy, NY, Sentinel first published the poem anonymously on December 23, 1823. If no "creatures are stirring" (not even a mouse) and your "stockings are hung by the chimney with care," you may have time to use census records and data to learn more about some of your favorite literary figures and the publishing industry. For example:

  • Alfred Joyce Kilmer—best known for his poem Trees—was born on December 6, 1886, in New Brunswick, NJ. The U.S. Forest Service manages the 3,800 acre Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Graham County, NC, which contains some of the "loveliest" old growth trees in the eastern United States.
  • John Greenleaf Whittier was born on December 17, 1807, in Haverhill, MA. Between Whittier's birth in 1807 and his death in 1892, the U.S. population grew from about 7.2 million to more than 62 million.
  • "Once upon a midnight dreary . . ." in December, the protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Raven grew increasingly distraught over the loss of his beloved Lenore. Poe published the poem in 1845, while living in New York City. Four years later, he died in Baltimore, MD.
  • At the time of Emily Dickinson's death in 1886, American publishers produced 4,676 books and pamphlets. Four years later, they published 4,559 books, including the first posthumous volume of Dickinson's poetry. The 12,589 books published in 1955 included editor Thomas H. Johnson's "complete" collection of Dickinson's work. According to Bowker Link to a non-federal Web site—a provider of bibliographic information—traditional book publishers produced 304,912 titles in 2013. Nontraditional publishers (including reprints of public domain works, self-publishers, and other print-on-demand presses) printed approximately 1.1 million titles.
  • Robert Frost is perhaps one of the 20th century's most well-known poets for his depictions of life in rural New England. In 1923, Frost published a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems titled, New Hampshire. Among the poems was "The Census-Taker" about an enumerator's visit to a deserted house and the desolate landscape that surrounded it.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the number of book publishers (NAICS 511130) in the United States fell 15.6 oercent from 3,157 to 2,663. During the same period, receipts per establishment rose 14 percent and payroll per employee rose 31.6 percent.
  • In May 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 44,690 people identified their occupation as writer or author. In addition to poets, the category also included writers working in the advertising, newspaper, motion picture, and scientific consulting industries. Median wage for writers and authors in May 2016 was $61,240. States with the highest employment of writers and authors were California (8,380), New York (6,790), Texas (2,060), Florida (1,830), and Massachusetts (1.580).
  • You can learn more about American poets and literary figures by studying their census records. For example, Maya Angelou participated in the 1930 Census while living above her aunt and uncle's grocery store in Stamps, AR; Langston Hughes was an "Author, Writing Books" in 1930; Leaves of Grass author Walt Whitman lived with two brothers and a sister-in-law on Stevens Street, Camden, NJ, in 1880; and T.S. Eliot—a "British" poet and essayist—was the son of a successful brick-making executive in St. Louis, MO. Visit the Famous and Infamous Web page to learn more about your favorite authors and poets!

Robert Frost Farm

Robert Frost is usually associated with his poetry about rural New England life, but he was born and spent his first decade in San Francisco, CA.
Frost, his wife, and children lived in England, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The National Park Service listed the "Robert Frost Homestead"
in Derry, NH, as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.





Tracy Smith
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Poet Laureate


In 1937, Joseph Auslander became the first Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Congress changed the title to U.S. Poet Laureate in 1985.

Robert Penn Warren, Robert Frost, and Gwendolyn Brooks are among a few of the authors and poets who held the position.

In June 2017, the Librarian of the U.S. Congress selected Falmouth, MA, native and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy K. Smith (picture at left) as the nation's current Poet Laureate. Her tenure as "Top Poet" spans from September 2017 to May 2018.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.




















Bernard Malamud
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Did You Know


In the 1940s, author Bernard Malamud worked for the Census Bureau's Agriculture Division and often wrote short stories during his lunch breaks.

Malamud's 1952 novel The Natural was made into a 1984 movie starring Robert Redford. The Magic Barrel, a collection of short stories published in 1958 earned the author his first National Book Award.

A Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a second National Book Award followed for Malamud's 1967 novel, The Fixer.





























This Month in Census History


On Christmas Day 1962, the population clock housed at the U.S. Department of Commerce reached 188 million.

In that year, the nation's five largest cities were New York City, NY; Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; Philadelphia, PA; and Detroit, MI.

Fifty-five years later, the U.S. population has grown to more than 326 million. New York City, NY, Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Houston, TX, and Philadelphia, PA, are the nation's largest cities today.




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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: January 28, 2019