Dabney Stuart

Dabney Stuart (1937– )

Dabney Stuart, a professor emeritus of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, is a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, and literary criticism. Stuart has published nineteen books and been a contributor to numerous literary journals, including Poetry, Shenandoah, Southern Review, and Yale Review. Best known as a poet who covers a wide range of styles, Stuart's use of psychoanalytical theory and investigations into familial relationships are hallmarks of his writing. MORE...


The son of Walker Dabney Stuart Jr., a hardware wholesaler, and Martha von Schilling Stuart, Dabney Stuart was born Walker Dabney Stuart III on November 4, 1937, in Richmond, where he lived until enrolling in college. Stuart began writing poetry as a teenager at summer camp and often used places and people he knew in Virginia as his subject matter. Later, Stuart attended Davidson College in North Carolina, where he received a BA in English in 1960. Stuart continued on to Harvard University, where he earned an MA in English in 1962.

In 1965, after appointments at various colleges, Stuart began teaching English at Washington and Lee University, where he remained through his retirement. From 1966 until 1976, Stuart was the poetry and review editor of Shenandoah, the literary journal published through the English Department at Washington and Lee; he later served as chief editor of the journal from 1988 until 1995.

Stuart's poetry has evolved from the formalism popular in the 1950s and 1960s to free verse in his later years, yet many themes remained constant, including family, relationships, memory, and psychoanalytic theory (why people behave the way they do). His writing, however, is not purely autobiographical. The family members that often appear in Stuart's poetry are composite characters based on memory and invention, rather than precise portraits. These characters are the ones his psyche needs, explains Stuart: "the father I write of is the one I need, not someone who had a historical existence I try to commemorate."

Stuart's first book, The Diving Bell (1966), is a poetry collection written in the academic formalist style of the time in which a young man imagines his future by looking at his past. Stuart published numerous volumes of poetry over the next several decades, during which time his style grew from his earlier formalism to the freer, occasionally experimental, verse that defined his later years.

In 1987, Stuart published Don't Look Back, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Continuing the trend seen in his earlier collections, the book finds the author examining people and places from his past in order to inform his present psyche. He followed Don't Look Back with Narcissus Dreaming (1990), which also received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. This collection of poems that marks a transition from the purely personal to a look at the greater world. Its subjects range from baseball to dreamlike reimaginings of myths and fairy tales.

In 1992, Stuart published his first collection of short stories, Sweet Lucy Wine, which was later followed by short story collections The Way to Cobbs Creek (1997) and No Visible Means of Support (2001). Family Preserve (2005) is a collection of previously published poems, unpublished work, and new poems all centering on the subject of family. Stuart lives with his wife, Sandra Westcott, whom he wed in 1983, in Lexington and continues to write. He has a daughter and two sons from previous marriages.

Major Works

  • The Diving Bell (1966)
  • A Particular Place (1969)
  • The Other Hand (1974)
  • Friends of Yours, Friends of Mine (1974)
  • Round and Round: A Triptych (1977)
  • Nabokov: The Dimensions of Parody (1978)
  • Rockbridge Poems (1981)
  • Common Ground (1982)
  • Don't Look Back (1987)
  • Narcissus Dreaming (1990)
  • Sweet Lucy Wine (1992)
  • Long Gone (1996)
  • The Way to Cobbs Creek (1997)
  • Settlers (1999)
  • No Visible Means of Support (2001)
  • The Man Who Loves Cézanne (2003)
  • Family Preserve (2005)
  • Tables (2009)
  • Time Line

    • November 4, 1937 - Dabney Stuart is born in Richmond, Virginia.
    • 1960 - Dabney Stuart earns a BA in English from Davidson College in North Carolina.
    • 1962 - Dabney Stuart earns an MA in English from Harvard University.
    • 1965 - After various appointments at other schools, Dabney Stuart begins teaching English at Washington and Lee University.
    • 1966 - Dabney Stuart's first book of poetry, The Diving Bell, is published.
    • 1987 - Dabney Stuart's Don't Look Back is published, and is later nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
    Further Reading
    Dillon, Cy. "A Dialogue with Dabney Stuart." Virginia Libraries Digital Library Archives. Volume 48, number 2 (Summer 2002).
    Cite This Entry
    APA Citation:
    Stalling, M. B. Dabney Stuart (1937– ). (2013, December 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Stuart_Dabney_1937-.

    MLA Citation:
    Stalling, M. B. "Dabney Stuart (1937– )." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 28 Dec. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

    First published: October 30, 2008 | Last modified: December 28, 2013

    Contributed by Mary Bartram Stalling, a student at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia.