Joseph Edgar Simmons Jr. was born to Joseph Edgar Simmons Sr. and Dorothy Clark Simmons on 28 May 1921 in Natchez. He grew up in Mississippi before attending Columbia University, where he earned bachelor’s (1947) and master’s (1948) degrees. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, he began teaching English literature at the college level, serving as an instructor at DePauw University, the College of William and Mary, Southern Illinois University, and Mississippi College. From 1967 to 1969 he held the post of director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. He also wrote columns for the Dublin Irish Press and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Simmons’s poems frequently appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, Harper’s, and the Nation. Expressing rich experiences through clear and vivid language, his poetry was collected in numerous anthologies, including Southern Writing in the Sixties: Poetry, New Directions, and The Honey and the Gall. He published three volumes of poetry: Pocahontas and Other Poems (1957); Driving to Biloxi (1967); and Osiris at the Roller Derby (1983). The title poem from Driving to Biloxi concludes, “knowing these fiery rails will break, anytime now, into green, dusty faced ferns, & shell roads whistling towards the water.” Simmons died in Meadville on 26 November 1979. In his memory, family members established a scholarship fund for students with an interest in creative writing and English at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
- Conrad Aiken Collection, Emory University Library
- John Crowe Ransom Papers, Vanderbilt University Library
- Mississippi Writers and Musicians website, www.mswritersandmusicians.com
- Allen Tate Collection, Vanderbilt University Library