John Knoepfle was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1923. He is a veteran of World War II, Pacific Theater. In 1947, he earned a Ph.B. at Xavier University, Cincinnati, and in 1949 an M.A. In the 1950s he tape recorded some 60 river men of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. This project helped form his writerís voice and influenced his decision to remain in the Midwest. In 1965 he received a Ph.D. in Literature from St. Louis University.

His first book, Rivers into Islands, was published in 1965, by the University of Chicago Press. Other books include The Intricate Land, New Rivers Press, 1969; Selected Poems, BkMk Press, 1985; Poems from the Sangamon, University of Illinois Press, 1985; Begging an Amnesty, Druid Press, 1994; The Chinkapin Oak, Rosehill Press, 1995; and Prayer Against Famine and Other Irish Poems, BkMk Press, University of Missouri at Kansas City, 2004. His most recent books, Walking in Snow and I Look Around for My Life: An Autobiography, which covers his formative years, were published in 2008 by Pearn and Associates, Inc., Boulder, Colorado.

In 1986, Knoepfle received the Mark Twain Award for Contributions to Midwestern Literature from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature at Michigan State University. He was also named Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. In 1995, he was the first recipient of the Illinois Literary Heritage Award from the Illinois Center for the Book. In 2002, he received the WILL Award for Excellence in the Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

From 1957-1961, Knoepfle taught English at the East St. Louis Residence Center, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. From 1961-1965, he was assistant professor of English at Maryville College in St. Louis. From 1966-1972, he taught creative writing and literature at St. Louis University. From 1972-1991, he was professor of literature at the University of Illinois at Springfield (formerly Sangamon State University). During these years, Knoepfle taught Creative Writing, Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama, Folk Literature, Native American Novel, and Contemporary Poetry. He also founded the universityís annual Verbal Arts Festival.

Knoepfle has lectured and given readings throughout the country. Activities in the past several years include a reading for the Irish Famine Conference at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut; a workshop at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference in Washington State; visiting poet at Illinois Wesleyan University; reader in the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.; teacherís workshop at Starved Rock State Park, sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council; and judge for the Christopher Newport Writers Contest in Newport News, Virginia. During the 1990s, he made three visits to Ireland that helped shape the poems in Prayer Against Famine and Other Irish Poems. In 2009 he took part in the series dedicated to the recollections of WWII veterans at the Decatur, Illinois public library and read at the University of Missouri- St. Louis.

Knoepfle married Peggy Sower in Cincinnati in 1956. They have four children and four grandchildren. After living in Auburn, Illinois, for thirty years, they moved in 2002 to Springfield.


  • Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ph.B., 1947.
  • Xavier University, Cincinnati, M.A., 1949.
  • St. Louis University, Ph.D., 1965.

Honors and Awards

  • Rockefeller Foundation fellow, 1967.
  • National Endowment for the Arts, fellowship, 1980.
  • Mark Twain Award for Distinguished Contributions to Midwestern Literature. The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, Michigan State University, 1986.
  • 1986 Illinois Author of the Year, the Illinois Association of Teachers of English.
  • The Illinois Center for the Book Literary Heritage Award, 1995.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Maryville University, 1996.
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, Springfield College in Illinois, 1999.
  • WILL Award Signaling Excellence in the Arts, 2002. (WILL is the PBS station of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)

For biography, significance and further reading, see: “John Knoepfle” by Theodore Haddin in Dictionary of Midwestern Literature, Volume 1: The Authors, Indiana University Press, 2001.