|After an uneventful childhood in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he was born in 1879, Wallace Stevens went off to Harvard as a special non-degree student. There he encountered the philosopher and psychologist William James and the aesthetician George Santayana, both of whom had formative effects on his thinking. After school, Stevens moved to New York City, where he worked halfheartedly for the New York Tribune. He had relatively more enthusiasm for his hobbies: reading poetry and philosophy, smoking cigars, and taking long walks, occasionally finding himself deep into New Jersey at sundown. His bohemian inclinations, however, couldn't stand up to the work ethic his Presbyterian upbringing instilled in him, and he entered New York Law School in 1901, graduating and passing the bar in 1903. In 1909, against his family's strident protests, he married Elsie Kachel, a Reading native, and in 1916 they moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Stevens settled into a career at Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. All the time his business career was taking off, Stevens was writing poems. He'd often think them up as he walked to work, jot them down at the office, and hand them over to his secretary, who was the only person at the office who knew he wrote. Stevens's poems evince a cosmopolitan aesthetic, suggesting that a passion for foreign travel and for exotic experiences lay beneath the veneer of his business life. In fact, Stevens never traveled outside of the country except for two brief trips to Cuba. His Francophilia, for instance, was never consummated with a visit, but fed off his readings in French and his arrangement with a French art dealer, who periodically bought French paintings for Stevens's collection. For several years, Stevens vacationed in Key West, which he thought of as an almost foreign place and mythologized in his poems, but after a few too many drunken nights--one of which culminated in a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway--Stevens decided Florida made him too decadent, and he confined himself to the Northeast for the rest of his life, content simply to travel in his imagination. He died in Hartford of cancer in 1955, shortly after winning his second National Book Award and his first Pulitzer Prize (both for his COLLECTED POEMS). Stevens was a professed atheist all his adult life, claiming for poetry the powers that once were ascribed to religion, so it surprised many when a Catholic priest reported that Stevens converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, a report that Holly Stevens, the poet's only daughter, angrily disputes.