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David Wagoner, longtime editor of Poetry Northwest, dies at 96

Poetry Northwest has learned that esteemed editor David Wagoner has died. According to sources close to him and involved with his care, he died in his sleep at a nursing home in Edmonds on December 18, 2021. He was 96.

Esteemed former editor David Wagoner, 1926 – 2021

Wagoner was Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, where he began teaching in 1954, working alongside his mentor Theodore Roethke. In 1966 he began his long tenure at the helm of Poetry Northwest, inheriting the post from Carolyn Kizer (who left to direct the nascent NEA). He continued to serve as sole editor until 2002 when the University of Washington withdrew its support and the magazine was temporarily inactive. Wagoner’s editorship proved durable and influential, bringing many Northwest poets to a wider audience, and vice versa. He was famously responsive, returning submissions within two or three weeks, and he kept the journal open to writers of all stripes, publishing many debuts among the finest poets of those decades.

The author of dozens of books of poetry and fiction, his most recent collection is After the Point of No Return (Copper Canyon Press 2012). His poems nourish readers with vivid images of place and personhood, defining relationships against the backdrop of specific landscapes, unfolding with narrative poignancy and grace. Wagoner also edited Straw for the Fire (Copper Canyon Press 2006), selected prose from Theodore Roethke’s notebooks, and wrote a play about his former mentor titled First Class. His many honors include a Ruth Lilly Prize and an Academy of Arts and Letters Award.

In a third incarnation as beloved teacher, he taught the master poetry class at Hugo House until it was no longer possible, generating a new and enduring community of students. His devotion to the art of poetry remains a bedrock of Northwest literary life. He is survived by his wife, Robin Seyfried, and their two daughters.

[Published December 21, 2021]