Born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Margaret Widdemer spent most of her childhood in Asbury Park, which provided the setting for many of her early novels (one was titled “The Boardwalk”). Her first published novel, “The Rose Garden Husband,” put her on the map in 1915, but a poem she wrote three years later cemented her reputation: for it, she shared the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, then still known as the Columbia University Prize (and the $500 cash award, donated anonymously), with Carl Sandburg for her “The Old Road to Paradise.”
She would continue writing for 59 years, ultimately having more than 30 books, nine collections of poetry, nine collections of children’s stories, three memoirs, and two instructional works published – she was even working on an unfinished novel when she died in 1978, at the age of 93.
Widdemer’s memoir, “Golden Years I Had,” recalled the excellent literary company she kept throughout her life, detailing interactions with Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Eliot, among others. But her New York Times obituary also described her as “unflinchingly independent.” When not writing, she could often be found encouraging others to do so – she instructed at Columbia’s Chautaugua Writer’s Conference and made a series of radio appearances on NBC’s show “Do You Want to Write?”
The Pulitzer was Widdemer’s first significant award, but not the last. The Saturday Review of Literature gave her its 1922 Award for Best Satire for her book “Tree with a Bird in It;” The English Poetry Society gave her its 1926 prize for Best Ballad for her “Fiddler’s Green;” and in 1960, she received the Lyric Award for Distinguished Services to Poetry.
All her life, Widdemer expressed a deep pride in being schooled at home by family, developing her talent for writing via hard work, and building such an extensive catalogue, piece by piece. We’re honored to recognize and remember her legacy today.