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Nora May French (1881 1907)

Nora May French (Click for a larger image)

Born in Aurora, New York in 1881, Nora May French was a tragic figure whose striking appearance and direct manner made a lasting impression on those who knew her. She was an artist and poet, publishing only a few works during her brief lifetime. Her poems are reminiscent of Muriel Stuart and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

She moved with her family to Los Angeles in 1888 where they bought a ranch in Glendale. Nora began drawing and writing poetry at age 12. Some of her works were published in a local newspaper. Her family, which was originally wealthy on her Monther's side (the 'Wells' of Wells Fargo), suffered a series of mishaps, including a drought which, along with the financial depression of the 1890's devestated their California ranch, which eventually burned to the ground. The family's poor finances meant Nora's education was sporadic, studying intermittently at what would later become UCLA, and taking art classis in Los Angeles and New York. In the early 1900s she was in New York working days in a factory, and writing poetry in the evenings. Wherever she went to study, she continued to work for her room and board and tuition.

She moved back to Los Angeles only to have the same ill fortune at love as her title character in The Spanish Girl, a cycle of twenty two poems about a failed love affair. She continued to write, but continued to suffer from financial woes, poor health, and unsuccessful relationships. She was well known in the Bohemian literary circles surrounding novelist Jack London and his friends Mary Austin, George Sterling, Charles Lummis and humorist Gelette Burgess.

In 1906 she moved to San Francisco a few months after the Great Earthquake, described in her poem San Francisco New Year's, 1907, where her frustrations grew worse. In 1907 she moved to live with poet George Sterling and his wife in Carmel, where she died by her own hand in November. Her friends published a collection of her poems in 1910. She has been largely forgotten in the intervening 100 years.

Poets' Corner Index Entry for Nora May French.

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[Bigraphical Summary by Steve Spanoudis - sources: California Poetry: the Gold Rush to the Present by Dana Gioia; biographical sketch by Pamela Herr, California Legacy Project]




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