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James Hearst

James Hearst -- (August 8, 1900 - July 27, 1983)

James Hearst was a midwestern poet, philosopher and university professor, who was sometimes described as the “Robert Frost of the Midwest.” (Alluding to this, someone once said to Frost, who was a friend of Hearst’s, that he was the “James Hearst of New England.”) ("James Hearst" Wikipedia entry) Hearst had deep roots in Cedar Falls, Iowa where he lived and taught at the University of Northern Iowa.

Events for this Author

James Hearst -- September 2017

Thursday, Sept. 7:  Jeremy Schraffenberger:  "James Hearst and the North American Review." 7 pm at the Hearst Center.

Thursday Sept 14:  Scott Cawelti:  "James Hearst's poems as Songs:  Reprise and Update." 7 pm at the Hearst Center.

Thursday Sept 21:   Jim O'Loughlin:  Title TBD, but tentatively "Planting Red Geraniums:  Discovered Poems of James Hearst."  7 pm at the Hearst Center.

profile w hand on chin
James and Meryl
young james hearst
 James Hearst James with wife MerylHearst as a young man
Cover of North American Review
honorary degree
The UNI campusHearst on the Cover of the North American ReviewGetting an Honorary Degree -- (Doctor of Literature) May 17, 1975


Poetry Foundation has this to say about James Hearst:

"James Hearst was born in 1900 and grew up on a farm in Black Hawk County, near Cedar Falls, Iowa. He attended a country school with his siblings, read books with his mother’s encouragement, and worked on the family farm. Hearst attended Iowa State Teachers College and briefly joined the United States Army in 1918. In 1919, a diving accident in the Cedar River left him paraplegic. In the years following the accident, Hearst did coursework through the University of Iowa, read extensively, and began writing poetry. He worked as a livestock farmer with his brother, weathering the Depression and making the switch from horses to tractors. In 1941, he began teaching as an instructor of creative writing at Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), eventually retiring as a distinguished professor of English.

Farm life has been one of the focuses of Hearst’s poetry—he first wrote for farming publications and was farm editor of Midwest News—and his poetry reveals his firsthand knowledge of the day-to-day workings of a farm. In a 1974 essay for The North American Review, Hearst expresses his subject as not only the “truth about farming” and life on a farm but also “the red thread of rebellion” that is part of American life. Of the poet’s art, he writes, “It is the poet who shows us the meaning of meaninglessness, the absurdity of the absurd. For through the structure of the poem which shapes to its material, we find the clue to its meaning.”

Hearst was the author of over a dozen collections of poetry, among them Country Men (1937) and Limited View (1962), winner of a Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, the Best Book of Poetry 1962, and the Black Hawk Award. His poems are available in The Complete Poetry of James Hearst (2001). Hearst is also author of an autobiography, My Shadow Below Me (1981), and the essay collection Time Like a Furrow (1981).

Hearst’s awards include an Iowa Bicentennial Artists’ Recognition Award and the Iowa Library Association’s 1977 Johnson Brigham Award for the “most outstanding contribution to literature.” For 13 years, Hearst was poet-in-residence at the Summer Arts and Performance Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Hearst and his wife left their house to the city of Cedar Falls, Iowa, for use as an arts center; it is now called the Hearst Center for Arts."

Connection to Cedar Falls

Poet James Hearst had deep roots in Cedar Falls, Iowa where he lived and taught at the University of Northern Iowa from 1941 to 1975. He held classes in the basement of his home at 304 West Seerley Boulevard, which is located close to campus. After he and his wife died, their home became the property of the city of Cedar Falls; his will stated that it was  "...to be used as a community arts center." After work was done to expand and redesign the home, the James and Meryl Hearst Center for the Arts opened in May 1989.

List of Works

The following list comes from his Wikipedia entry. Hearst wrote ten volumes of poetry: 

Country Men (1937, 1938, 1943) (the 1937 edition had a Foreword by Ruth Suckow)

The Sun at Noon (1943) 

Man and His Field (1951) 

A Limited View (1962), 

A Single Focus (1967) 

Dry Leaves (1975) 

Shaken by Leaf Fall (1976) 

Proved by Trial (1977) 

Snake in the Strawberries (1979) 

Landmark and Other Poems (1979) 

Want to find a book of poetry by James Hearst?

Try the Cedar Falls Public Library: here is a list of the books they have.

Two other collections of his poetry were published posthumously: Selected Poems (1994) and 

The Complete Poetry of James Hearst (2001), edited by Scott Cawelti and with a Foreword by Nancy Price (pictured below).

 "James Hearst wrote eloquently of the land, its pleasures and sorrows, carefully turning the language as one of his farmer heroes turns the soil. Scott Cawelti and his colleagues have done us all a favor by assembling this fine collection, ensuring the onward resonance of Hearst's words and sensibilities." - Robert James Waller (Review posted on Amazon)

The book is now available online 

This is a PDF of over 500 pages and contains the poetry of James Hearst. 

Permission to print James Hearst's poetry has been granted by the University of Northern Iowa Foundation, which owns the copyrights to Hearst's work.

In addition, he wrote two books of prose: My Shadow Below Me (1982, an autobiography) and Time Like a Furrow: Essays (1982).

"The fall 1974 issue of the North American Review, an award-winning literary magazine published at UNI, was designated a "James Hearst Issue." It featured Hearst's poetry, a checklist of his published works, a narrative of his life, and others observations about the significance of his writings. Each year, the same magazine sponsors a competition called the James Hearst Poetry Prize."

Hearst’s early published work appeared in Wallace’s Farmer magazine. Over many years, his work was also published in The Nation, Des Moines Register, Chicago Sun-Times, Prairie Schooner, New York Herald Tribune, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s, Saturday Review, Commonweal, North American Review, Poetry, Chicago Jewish Forum, Canadian Poetry Magazine, The Sparrow, Educational Leadership, The Instructor, America, American Friends Magazine, The Iowan, Kansas Magazine, Hawk and Whippoorwill, Compass Review, Poetry Dial, Discourse, The Humanist, Wormwood Review, Iowa English Workshop, Voyages to the Inland Sea, Virginia Quarterly Review, Heartland, Christian Science Monitor, and Growing Up in Iowa.



Wikipedia Entry for James Hearst -- (August 8, 1900 - July 27, 1983)

An announcement of his death to the University community that includes a brief biography and this tribute:

"During a long and distinguished life, James Hearst was a farmer, teacher, and poet who came to be known and respected throughout the country. His thirteen volumes of poetry and two autobiographical works have won him praise and honors on both the state and national level, and recently he has gained attention abroad for his poetic mastering of the Midwest American speech and life in more than six hundred published poems."

James Hearst Poetry put to Music

Retired Professor Scott Cawelti put 16 of Hearst's poems to music on CD and titled it "Landscape Iowa." 

You can enjoy some of the poems/songs on YouTube. 


"Landscape Iowa." Scott Cawelti performs James Hearst's poem "Landscape Iowa," the title track to Cawelti's CD of 16 James Hearst poems, sung. Scott Smith, videography and editing. Uploaded on Dec 21, 2011


"Forsythia." A James Hearst poem put to music by Scott Cawelti.


"Whatever Happens." A James Hearst poem put to music by Scott Cawelti.


"The Orchard Man." A James Hearst poem put to music by Scott Cawelti.


"What is a Cow?" A James Hearst poem put to music by Scott Cawelti.


"The Movers."  A James Hearst poem put to music by Scott Cawelti.


The Malicious Spirit of Machines


Wikipedia Entry for James Hearst -- (August 8, 1900 - July 27, 1983)


Poetry Foundation -- August 1940

"False Warning" and "After the Son Died"


Hearst, James Schell. (August 8, 1900-July 27, 1983).  The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa.

Notice that you can download several documents below, as well as a brief power point presentation about his life and work.

Last Updated Nov. 9, 2017

Cherie Dargan,
Feb 24, 2017, 9:00 AM
Cherie Dargan,
Apr 2, 2017, 7:45 AM
Cherie Dargan,
Mar 3, 2017, 1:36 PM