Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Engle, Paul

 Person

Dates

  • Existence: 1908-1991

Paul Engle was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on October 12, 1908, to parents (Hamilton) Thomas Allen and Evelyn (Reinheimer) Engle. As a child, he received his formal education within the Cedar Rapids public schools and claimed to have received many informal lessons while helping out in the family's horse business. Engle attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids, where he graduated cum laude in 1931, emphasizing English literature, American history and languages. In 1932, Paul Engle received his M.A. from the University of Iowa, marking one of the first times in the U.S. an advanced degree was awarded for presenting a piece of imaginative writing as a thesis. The work, Worn Earth, was subsequently published by the Yale University Press. That same year, Engle was awarded a fellowship to begin doctoral work at Columbia University.

In the fall of 1933, Paul Engle received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. He sailed for England, enrolled in Merton College at Oxford University, and began studies under the poet Edmund Blunden. He was awarded a second M.A. degree in 1936, and in July of that year married Mary Nomine Nissen, a former neighbor in Cedar Rapids.

After his return to the states in 1937, Engle joined the faculty at the University of Iowa, lecturing primarily on poetry. In 1942, he became professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program. It is, perhaps, quite relevant to note here that Paul Engle, despite many quotes to the contrary, was not the founder of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. While it is true that Engle had much to do with shaping the Workshop into a prestigious and well-known program, credit for the idea and its inception must go to Wilbur Schramm. Engle was appointed acting director in 1941, during Schramm's wartime service. Paul Engle went on to direct the program for twenty-four more years.

In 1967, Engle and his future second wife, Chinese poet Hua-ling Nieh Engle, co-founded the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa. The couple's work with foreign writers and their families led them to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1976. Paul retired from his position as director of the IWP in July of 1977. Hua-ling took over the position, while her husband advised her occasionally. In his retirement from the university, Engle was able to dedicate more time to his writing.

Although Paul Engle dedicated a tremendous portion of his professional life to directing writing programs at the University of Iowa, he still managed to find time to raise two daughters from his first marriage, Mary and Sara, as well as two step-daughters, Lan-Lan and Wei-Wei. As well, throughout his university career, Engle never stopped writing. Over the course of his life, Paul Engle published more than a dozen books of poetry, a novel, a children's book and a full-length libretto. His poems and critical essays have appeared in countless professional and popular publications, including Readers' Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Life Magazine, and Better Homes and Gardens. Engle also found the time to edit numerous anthologies of short fiction and poetry and to travel extensively, lecturing on topics regarding his own work, the writing programs at the university and life in the state of Iowa.

While it is relatively easy to see that Engle was a prolific writer and a successful administrator, it is, perhaps, more difficult to assess the impact Paul Engle made upon the literary world. His teaching, his poetry and prose, and his leadership have influenced and inspired countless readers and writers, university writing programs, publishing houses, and scholars at all age and ability levels.

Paul Engle died in March of 1991 at the age of 82.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Paul Engle Papers

 Collection
Identifier: msc0514
Abstract Poet (numerous books from Worn Earth, 1932), editor of the O. Henry Prize Stories, 1954-1959, director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1941-1967, and co-founder and director of the International Writers' Program, 1967-1976 at the University of Iowa. Literary manuscripts, correspondence, subject files, and student works documenting his career as a writer and teacher.