Conrad Aiken was a Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote many short stories, poems, plays, and novels. He was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1889. Aiken was the oldest child of Dr. William Ford Aiken, a renowned physician and eye surgeon, and Anna Potter Aiken. On February 27, 1901, 11-year old Conrad heard gunshots ring out through the family home on Liberty Street. He was horrified to find the bodies of his parents. It was a murder-suicide. Dr. Aiken shot and killed his wife and then turned the gun on himself. This tragic event would no doubt have a profound impact on Aiken and his future writings.
Young Conrad and his siblings were taken in by a great aunt and uncle in Massachusetts where he would attend the Middlesex School and later Harvard. As a young man he was greatly influenced by his maternal grandfather who was a Unitarian minister. While at Harvard he would befriend T.S. Elliot and the two future writers formed a lifelong friendship. While at Harvard Aiken was also greatly influenced by the philosopher George Santayana. Aiken deeply studied the psychologists Sigmund Frued, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank. These relationships and his studies would help him form a style of writing that would help him gain critical acclaim and popularity.
Aiken won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1930, the American Book Award in 1954, and was the Poet Laureate for the United States and the state of Georgia. His most popular and influential works were Selected Poems and Silent Snow, Secret Snow. He was married three times, had numerous affairs, and fathered three children. All of them became writers. Aiken died in 1973 and is buried in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. His headstone is fashioned as a bench with an invitation to sit and join him for a martini. The cemetery entertains many visitors each year who take Aiken up on his request!
Conrad Aiken’s Headstone
Bonaventure Cemetery (Section H, 78)