Born in New York City on March 3, 1926, James Ingram Merrill was the son of Charles Merrill, co-founder of the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch. At the age of 16, while still in prep school, Merrill’s father had a collection of his work independently printed under the title Jim’s Book as a surprise gift for the young poet. Merrill went on to Amherst College where, after serving overseas in U. S. Army service during WWII, he graduated summa cum laude. While still in college his second collection of poems, The Black Swan (1946), was independently published. After teaching for a year, he traveled through Europe. He eventually settled in Stonington, CT, and in 1956 used a portion of his sizable inheritance to establish the James Merrill Foundation, which has awarded grants to hundreds of writers. He won the 1973 Bollingen prize for Braving the Elements (1972), and the Pulitzer for his 1976 work Divine Comedies. On February 6, 1995, while on a trip to Arizona, James Merrill died of a heart attack; he was sixty-eight years old. Alfred A. Knopf published A Scattering of Salts, his final work, a month later.
James Merrill’s literary archive is housed at the Beinecke Library; for a detailed description of the collection visit the Guide to the James Merrill Papers. Selected materials from the archive can be seen online in the Beinecke’s Digital Library: James Merrill Papers. Additional related resources in Beinecke Library collections may be found in Orbis and the Finding Aid Database.