Wallace Stevens was many things, but he was never an easy man to understand. The poems that earned him the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and two National Book Awards are famously complex and imaginative. The surety claims to which he devoted his career at Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. were equally intricate. Stevens’ colleagues in the insurance business viewed his poetry writing as one of his many eccentricities, and most claimed not to understand a word of his verse.
Even more perplexed, however, were the legion of writers and critics, from Stevens’ time to the present, who failed to understand his continued devotion to what they viewed as a bleak and uninspiring profession. He was often faulted for living a double life, rather than one focused on his writing. As with so much of Stevens’ life, however, the truth was considerably more complex.
This article appeared in the September/October 2007 issue of Contingencies, a bimonthly magazine published by the American Academy of Actuaries.
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