Hyam Plutzik

1911-1962

Biography

Hyam Plutzik was born in Brooklyn on July 13, 1911, the son of recent immigrants from what is now Belarus. He spoke only Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian until the age of seven, when he enrolled in grammar school near Southbury, Connecticut, where his parents owned a farm. Plutzik graduated from Trinity College in 1932, where he studied under Professor Odell Shepard. He continued graduate studies at Yale University, becoming one of the first Jewish students there. His poem “The Three” won the Cook Prize at Yale in 1933.

After working briefly in Brooklyn, where he wrote features for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Plutzik spent a Thoreauvian year in the Connecticut countryside, writing his long poem, Death at The Purple Rim, which earned him another Cook Prize in 1941, the only student to have won the award twice. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army Air Force throughout the American South and near Norwich, England; experiences that inspired many of his poems. After the war, Plutzik became the first Jewish faculty member at the University of Rochester, serving in the English Department as the John H. Deane Professor of English until his death on January 8, 1962.

Plutzik’s poems were published in leading poetry publications and literary journals. He also published three collections during his lifetime: Aspects of Proteus (Harper and Row, 1949); Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press, 1959); and Horatio (Atheneum, 1961), all three of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. To mark the centennial of his birth, Wesleyan University Press published a new edition of Apples from Shinar in 2011.

In 2016, Letter from a Young Poet (The Watkinson Library at Trinity College/Books & Books Press) was released, disclosing a young Jewish American man’s spiritual and literary odyssey through rural Connecticut and urban Brooklyn during the turbulent 1930s. In a finely wrought first-person narrative, young Plutzik tells his mentor, Odell Shepard what it means for a poet to live an authentic life in the modern world. The 72-page work was discovered in the Watkinson Library’s archives among the papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar, Professor Odell Shepard, Plutzik’s collegiate mentor in the 1930s. It was featured in a 2011 exhibition at Trinity commemorating the Plutzik centenary.

In 2021, Suburbano Ediciones published 32 Poems / 32 Poemas, a collection of Plutzik’s poems translated into Spanish by fourteen poet/translators from Spain and the Americas. The collection was edited by George B. Henson with a Foreword by Richard Blanco, who wrote the inaugural poem for President Barack Obama.

After Plutzik’s death in 1962, the University of Rochester established the Plutzik Poetry Series in his honor, the longest continuously running such series on any American campus. In 2022, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Series, Rochester University Press published A Celebration of the Plutzik Poetry Series: 1962-2022 at the University of Rochester, with a Foreword by Edward Hirsch. The book included Plutzik’s never-before published poem “The Seventh Avenue Express.”

Current City, State, Country

Rochester, New York, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Published Works

Poetry
The Seventh Avenue Express,
with a foreword by Edward Hirsch (A celebration of the Plutzik Poetry Series at the University of Rochester, 1962-2022; Meliora Press, 2022)
32 Poems / 32 Poemas, with a foreword by Richard Blanco (Suburbano Ediciones, 2021)
Apples from Shinar: Special Edition, with an afterword by David Scott Kastan. (Wesleyan University Press, 2011)
Hyam Plutzik: The Collected Poems, with a foreword by Anthony Hecht. (BOA Editions, 1987)
Horatio (Atheneum, 1961)
Apples from Shinar (Wesleyan University Press, 1959)
Aspects of Proteus (Harper & Brothers, 1949)
Death at the Purple Rim (Yale University Prize Poem, 1941) (The Artisan Press, 1941)
The Three (Yale University Prize Poem, 1933) (Yale University Press, 1933)

Prose
Letter From a Young Poet (Books & Books Press, 2016)

Author Site

Education

BA in English, Trinity College, 1932 (Phi Beta Kappa)
Literature and Poetry, Yale University Graduate Fellowship, 1934
MA in English, Yale University Graduate School, 1941

Video Reading

Links to Sample Works

Subject Matter

Genre

Profile Created By

Deborah Plutzik Briggs