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Sketches from the Life of Richard E. Lee

From Akron to New York City to Long Beach, California

Richard E. Lee was born on March 10, 1922 in Loudonville, Ohio, one of seven children in a Catholic family. When he was 12 years old, he entered the seminary where he obtained an excellent education, learning Greek and Latin. His poem "Flies" touches upon a childhood memory at St. Mary's in what seemed a time of innocence, but was filled with confusion and sadness.

From his youth up until his early adulthood years, Richard lived in Akron, Ohio, which he referenced in many of his poems. In "Should Of," written in November 1980, he shares his admiration for the late actor George Raft, whom he enjoyed watching as the "bad guy" on the silver screen at the local Majestic Theater. His poems "Expediter" and "The GI Bill" relate humorous tales of his experiences during the World War II era as a civilian at Goodyear Aircraft and as a soldier. Possessing an artistic soul, Richard was not cut out for the military, nor the demands of a regimented existence.

After serving in the army, Richard ventured away from home, discovering a new life awaiting him in New York City. In an e-mail written on May 6, 1999, Richard recalled his past upon returning from a visit to the metropolis:

...I revisited my lost young adulthood in New York when I was there. I was just out of the army, newly married to my first wife, living in cheap quarters in Brooklyn, commuting to New York University in the village, Greenwich Village -- the Washington Square Park area. When I saw a couple of weeks ago where I had lived, I couldn't believe it. Could anyone live in such run-down, dilapidated, outdated apartments? And of course I had lived there and loved it. It was all a great adventure. My life was ahead of me. So I revisited my past. I am not a native New Yorker, not by a long shot, just someone passing through on his way somewhere else, but what a great experience it was, what an education....

New York City impressed upon Richard something powerful that would remain with him for all his days. In "Self-Interview," Richard tells of the early influences of his artistic career, beginning at New York University where he obtained his BA, MA, and PhD degrees in English. Among the people he met in Greenwich Village during those years was Savya [M. Carol], who became his second wife.

Richard in the faculty parking lot at CSULBFollowing his graduation for his doctorate degree, fate would find Richard departing New York City for a teaching position at Penn State. He later settled in Southern California, where in 1955 he began teaching at California State University at Long Beach. With fellow English Department professor John Hermann, Richard co-founded the university's Creative Writing program. He commented on those years in an e-mail written on February 11, 2001: "It was an exciting time for all of us then." (Photo at right by David Barker shows Richard in CSULB's faculty parking lot, taken in his earlier years at the university.)

During the 1960s, Richard was involved in the Beat Poetry movement. His poem "The Beat Poets Come to the Nifty Theater" describes the excitement and anxiety of being onstage at a poetry reading. The Goosetree Press published Richard's poem "Chant for the Beat Generation," along with a pamphlet of his poems, The Circumstances of Birds, named for a poem in the collection. This poem of the same name recalls the style of Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whom Richard admired throughout his life. Many of the works in Birds were subsequently published in As If by CSULB art professor John Martin's Increase Press. Poems from this book, such as "Summerscape" and "Watch," appear sedate but reveal a restlessness beneath the surface. Richard may have been "at the end of (his) lot" among "dying reeds" in this phase of his life, but he was about to discover a new path -- one that would rejuvenate his spirit.

Richard's story here.


Special thanks to Savya Lee who provided some of the information in this biographical sketch.