Famous Poets Who Were Homeschooled

April is National Poetry Month! Did you know that quite a few famous poets were homeschooled? Some of these homeschooled writers are more well-known for their books, but they also wrote poems on the side. Check out this list of famous poets, courtesy of FamousHomeschoolers.net!

Louisa May Alcott
author of Little Women

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was not only a novelist but also a poet. Her poems reflect her keen observations of life, her feminist views, and her ability to infuse sentiment into everyday moments. Her writing style is simple yet profound, emphasizing that sometimes a short word conveys more than a long one ever could. The famous writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were the Alcotts’ neighbors and friends. While the majority of Louisa’s education was obtained from her father, her days were enlightened by visits to Emerson’s library, nature lessons with Thoreau, and theatricals in Hawthorne’s barn.

Hans Christian Anderson
Danish fairy tale writer

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is best remembered for his literary fairy tales, but he also wrote plays, travelogues, novels, and poems. As a child, he only went to school occasionally. He much preferred memorizing stories rather than learning to read, and he wanted to be a storyteller or an actor. As a young teenager, he became quite well known as a reciter of drama. Andersen has described his time in school as the darkest and bitterest time of his life, where he was mocked by the students and abused by the teachers. He left school and completed his studies with a private tutor. Today it is believed that he suffered from dyslexia which certainly would have contributed to his difficulties in school. A colleague at the theatre told him that he considered Andersen a poet, and taking the suggestion seriously, Andersen began to focus on writing. His most famous fairy tales include “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Little Match Girl”, and “Thumbelina.”

Margaret Atwood
Canadian novelist, poet

Margaret Atwood was born in Canada in 1939. She is a poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, and environmental activist. She wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Blind Assassin, and many more books. She did not attend school full-time until she was 12 years old, but she was a voracious reader of literature, Dell pocketbook mysteries, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, animal stories, and comic books. Atwood began writing plays and poems at the age of six.

Jane Austen
English novelist

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was home-educated for the most part, except for a brief stint at boarding school. She is best-remembered as the author of books like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Her writing is often ironic and witty, casting female characters in primary roles and featuring their strengths. She also wrote a few select poems throughout her life. Her poem “When Stretch’d On One’s Bed is one that anyone can identify with who’s had a throbbing headache, and one which causes readers to value their days of good health.

Robert Browning
English poet

Robert Browning (1812-1889) grew up in a home with over 6,000 books, many of them rare, as his father was a literary collector. After attending one or two private schools and showing a dislike of school life, he was educated at home by a tutor using the resources of his father’s library. Browning wrote poems and plays during the Victorian period. His most famous works are The Pied Piper of Hamelin, a children’s poem and The Ring and the Book, a 12-book long poem. He was married to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Pearl S. Buck
Nobel prize-winning author

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) lived in China where her parents were missionaries. She was raised in a bilingual environment: tutored in English by her mother, in the local dialect by her Chinese playmates, and in classical Chinese by a Chinese scholar named Mr. Kung. She also read voraciously, especially the novels of Charles Dickens. She is best known for writing The Good Earth, the best-selling novel in the United States in 1931 and 1932. In 1938, Buck became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China” and for two memoir-biographies of her missionary parents. Prolific though she was, Pearl produced only a limited number of poems, collected for publication as a slender illustrated volume, Words of Love (1974).

Robert Burns
Scottish poet and lyricist

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was given irregular schooling and a lot of his education came from his father, a self-educated tenant farmer, who taught his children reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history and also wrote for them A Manual of Christian Belief. Robert was also taught and tutored by the young teacher John Murdoch (1747–1824), who opened an “adventure school” in Alloway in 1763 and taught Latin, French, and mathematics to both Robert and his brother Gilbert (1760–1827) from 1765 to 1768. After a few years of home education, Burns was sent to school in Dalrymple Parish in mid-1772 before returning to full-time farm labor until 1773, when he was sent to lodge with Murdoch for three weeks to study grammar, French, and Latin. Robert Burns is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is most famous for the New Year’s Eve celebratory lyrics of Auld Lang Syne.

Willa Cather
American novelist

Willa Cather (1873-1947) attended grammar school and high school, although she was taught at home until about age 12. Jeff MacGregor wrote in Smithsonian Magazine that “she was an insatiable reader and borrower of books. She loved theater, dramatics, costumes. She read everything and asked questions of everyone. She learned biology thanks to the town doctors, whom she sometimes accompanied on their rounds.” Willa Cather is best known for her novels of life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. In 1923, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, a novel set during World War I. However, her very first book, April Twilights (The Gorham Press, 1903), was a collection of poems.

Agatha Christie
mystery author

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) never attended school but was educated in mathematics by her father and taught at home by a governess and tutors. A shy child, she became adept at creating games to keep herself occupied at a very young age. Christie was a voracious reader and she wrote her first poem at age 10. Primarily known as a crime writer, her poetic endeavors reveal a softer side of Agatha, with their emotional depth and introspective themes contrasting the logical rigor of her detective novels, reflecting her versatility as an author. Poems is the second of two collections of poetry that she wrote, the first being The Road of Dreams in January 1925. It was published in October 1973 at the same time as the novel Postern of Fate, her final work.

Charles Dickens
English novelist

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) left school at age 12 to work in a boot-blacking factory when his father was incarcerated in debtors’ prison. Dickens is considered to be one of the greatest English novelists of the Victorian period. His works are characterized by attacks on social evils, injustice, and hypocrisy. Along with 14 novels, Dickens wrote poetry. Some of his poems can be found on the Charles Dickens poet page.

Robert Frost
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet

Robert Frost (1874-1963) was one of America’s most beloved 20th century poets, even in his own lifetime. As a child, Frost did not take well to public school (he only lasted for one day in kindergarten), so he was educated at home. From an early age, Robert liked playing with words and the art of language. His famous poems include The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall, and Stopping by Woods On a Snowy Evening.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
early feminist writer

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) attended seven different schools for a cumulative total of just four years, ending when she was fifteen. She frequently visited the public library and studied ancient civilizations on her own, and inherited her father’s love of literature. One of America’s first feminists, she wrote fiction and nonfiction works promoting the cause of women’s rights. Gilman published a collection of poems, In This Our World, in 1893. Her poems address the issues of women’s suffrage and the injustices of women’s lives.

Sharlot Hall
poet, writer, historian

Sharlot Hall (1870-1943) was a largely self-educated and highly literate child of the Arizona frontier. She was the first woman to hold an office in the Arizona Territorial government. She wrote two books of poetry, Cactus and Pine: Songs of the Southwest and Poems of a Ranch Woman. She founded the Prescott Historical Society and opened a museum to house her collection of artifacts related to Arizona pioneers and pre-historic Yavapai county.

Bret Harte
frontier California journalist

Bret Harte (1836-1902) was an avid reader as a boy, though his formal schooling ended at age 13. Harte was an American short story writer and poet best remembered for short fiction featuring miners, gamblers, and other romantic figures of the California Gold Rush. In a career spanning more than four decades, he also wrote poetry, plays, lectures, book reviews, editorials, and magazine sketches.

Helen Keller
blind and deaf author and lecturer

Helen Keller (1880-1968), the remarkable disability rights advocate, lecturer, and author, also wrote poems. She once said, “Poetry is the gate through which I enter the land of enchantment. Once inside the flaming wall, my limitations fall from me, and my spirit is free.” Unfortunately, poems by Keller are not as widely recognized as her other works, but her ability to convey profound thoughts through language remains awe-inspiring.

Carl Sandburg
American poet

Carl Sandberg (1878-1967) was a poet, writer, and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes — two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. He was “a major figure in contemporary literature.” His works include Chicago Poems, Cornhuskers, and Smoke and Steel.

Mark Twain
American writer and satirist

With such renowned works as Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain’s influence on the English language, culture, and literature is undeniable. But many readers might be unfamiliar with Twain’s poetic writing. Even though he once said that he “detested poetry” and he wasn’t a “poet” in the traditional sense, Twain produced more than 120 poems over the course of his life — 95 humorous and 31 serious, with the majority of the latter written after 1890. At age 12, he had left school to work as a printer’s apprentice for a local newspaper, which allowed him to read the daily news while completing his work. He educated himself in public libraries in the evenings.

Mercy Warren
American Revolution eyewitness

Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) was an American poet, playwright, and activist during the era of the American Revolution. Like most girls at the time, Warren had no formal education; she made extensive use of her uncle’s large book collection to educate herself. She took a particular interest in history, politics, and poetry. Warren compiled 18 poems and two plays in a book entitled Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous, which was her first work to be published under her own name. Most of her works were political satire and dealt with themes of liberty and virtue. In 1805, she published a three-volume comprehensive history of the American Revolution, considered to be her magnum opus.

Phillis Wheatley
African-American poet

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) received an education in the Wheatley household while also working for the family. The Wheatleys were a progressive family and did not see anything immoral in educating a slave. They taught Phillis to read and write, and even encouraged her to write poetry. She was the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry. Her book titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773. Phillis Wheatley’s Christian upbringing played a key role in her success as a writer. By using religion as the main force in her poetry she was able to build a bridge between herself, an African slave, and her white audience. Phillis’ work was strongly influenced by the promise of life after death, which made her poetry stand out. Twenty of her fifty five surviving poems are elegies written to comfort relatives with eternal life in heaven. Wheatley also wrote about current political events such as the Stamp Act and was a supporter of American independence. She wrote a poem “To His Excellency, George Washington,” in which she praises him for his heroism.

Walt Whitman
American poet

One of the great American poets, Walt Whitman (1819-1892) self-published his poetry collection titled Leaves of Grass. It is now a milestone in American literature, and he is credited with inventing a whole new poetic form. He was also a journalist and editor, and was mostly self-taught since he was 11 years old.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
children’s book author

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a series of poems about fairies for the “The Tuck’em In Corner,” a children’s poetry column that ran semi-regularly in the San Francisco Bulletin. Wilder’s poems focused on two particular fairies, “lovely Drop-O-Dew” and “little Ray O’Sunshine.” Drop-O-Dew, she explained in a note, was “the Fairy who helps take care of the flowers. All night she carries drink to the thirsty blossoms; bathes the heads of those who have the headache from the heat of the day before, straightens them up on their stems and make[s] their colors bright for the morning.” Ray O’Sunshine worked in the daytime, coloring the apples and making the roses red. These fairies represented the natural forces at work in the spring and summer.

Virginia Woolf
English novelist

Born in 1882, the renowned British writer and feminist, raised by “free-thinking” parents, was homeschooled in English classics and Victorian literature from a young age. Woolf is primarily celebrated for her novels and essays. However, she also dabbled in poetry, painting vivid imagery with her words. “The Mark on the Wall” and “Kew Gardens” are among her more well-known poems. Her book The Waves blurs the distinctions between prose and poetry, and Woolf called it not a novel but a “playpoem.”

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