David Ray is one of the most distinguished American poets.
Ray was born in Sapulpa, Oklahoma in 1932. Ray comes from a broken home that was thrown into upheaval when his father left the family by hopping on the back of a watermelon truck headed to California. After his mother’s next failed marriage ended in the suicide of Ray’s stepfather, he and his sister Mary Ellen were placed into foster care—a system that wasn’t kind to young children in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Ray’s classic “Mulberries of Mingo” steeps from memories of he and his sister being thrown out of a foster families home at dinner time – to fend for themselves eating the mulberries from a neighbor’s tree. The years that followed were dark and tragic as he and his sister were separated to face their separate nightmares.
Ray is the author of twenty-one volumes of poetry, the most recent being “When” (2007), “Music of Time: Selected and New Poems” (2006) and The Death of Sardanapalus and Other Poems of the Iraq Wars(2004). A new volume, “After Tagore: Poems Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore” has been released in the Nirala Series (2008).
Ray has taught at several colleges in the United States, including Cornell University, Reed College, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he is professor emeritus. He has also taught in India, New Zealand, and Australia, and has published books inspired by the cultures of each country.
He has lectured and read at over 100 Universities in England, Canada and the U.S. Graduating from the University of Chicago, BA, MA; he became a co-founder of the American Writers Against the Vietnam War, and has been commonly quoted in recent anti-war actions.
Ray’s poetry varies from short, three to four lines pieces, to longer 30 lines poems. His work is also often autobiographical, providing unique context and insight to scenes of childhood, love, fear, sex, and travel. “Communication is important to him, and he has the courage, working with a genre in which simplicity is suspect, to say plainly what he means.”
Some of his awards include the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Poetry Prize (2001), the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award (1997), the Maurice English Poetry Award (1988) for Sams Book, and he has been a two-time winner of the William Carlos Williams prize from the Poetry Society of America (1979, 1994) for “The Tramp’s Cup” and Wool Highways. Ray’s poetry is individual yet strongly social, allowing him freedom to relate to a wide demographic. With Robert Bly, David co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War in 1966 and they co-edited A POETRY READING AGAINST THE VIETNAM WAR, a collection of relevant readings from the classics as well as contemporary sources. 5
He is the founding editor of New Letters Magazine and New Letters on the Air. His work has appeared in Harper’s, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, and many others. He has also held faculty positions at Cornell, University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Iowa, and Reed, as well as visiting positions at Syracuse, and universities in India, Australia, and New Zealand. 2
The David Ray Poetry Award: Named in his honor, this award was sponsored by the now defunct journal Potpourri; A Magazine of the Literary Arts. Recipients have included poets Lee Price, Carol Hamilton, and David Beard.
He and his wife, poet and essayist Judy Ray, live in Tucson, Arizona.