Nebraska author Weldon Kees holds a place of mystery in Nebraska literary history. Born in Beatrice, NE in 1914 and raised there through his childhood, Kees graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1935. Kees held many interests, chief among which was writing — in fact, during his senior year of college, one of his stories (published in the Prairie Schooner), appeared in the list of Distinctive Short Stories in American Magazine in 1934.
After college, Kees lived and worked in many different areas of the U.S., including Chicago, Denver, New York City and San Francisco. HIs interest in painting led to numerous one-man shows and appearances in galleries across the country. Three of Kees’ painting currently reside in the Sheldon Art Gallery in Lincoln, NE. Kees’ writings included reviews, articles, short stories and poetry, all of which appeared in many different sources over the years. During his lifetime, he saw the publication of three critically-acclaimed collections of his poetry. He wrote for mainsteam magazines such as Time and served as art critic for The Nation. Over the years, he dabbled in numerous other creative fields — newsreels, abstract expressionism, psychology, jazz music, experimental films, radio, film soundtracks and variety shows for the stage. Since his apparent demise in 1955, even more of his written work has appeared in book form, including a novel, a play, and collections of his reviews and essays.
Which brings us to the mystery associated with Weldon Kees. On July 18, 1955, on the same day that a new article written by Kees was seeing its first publication in The New Republic magazine, Kees’ car was found abandoned on an approach road to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Kees has never been seen again since, and it is presumed he committed suicide at that time. Despite the many years since his disappearance, interest in Kees’ writings continues to be strong. Described by fellow poet and editor, Donald Justice as “one of the bitterest poets in history,” Kees continues to connect with readers. His works filled with satire and dark humor, frequently disturbing and even sometimes frightening, Kees remains a highly original voice and a distinguished contributor to the legacy of Nebraska literature.
2006 – Nebraska Federal Writers Project: Remembering Writers of the 1930s, 2006, by Steve Cloyd, Rudolph Umland, Lincoln City Libraries, Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Wikipedia entry for Weldon Kees
“The Disappearing Poet: Whatever Happened to Weldon Kees” in The New Yorker, July 4, 2005
Weldon Kees page on the Nebraska Authors website
Weldon Kees entry in Modern American Poetry from the University of Illinois — compiled and prepared by Edward Brunner
The Cult of Weldon Kees
The Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors was gifted with a collection of Kees’ notebooks, letters and personal papers, and that collection is available for Kees scholars to study during the Heritage Room’s regular hours. You will also find numerous other items associated with Kees by doing either Subject — or Author — searches under “Kees, Weldon.”