Poet Stephen Stepanchev was born in Mokrin, Serbia, and moved to Chicago at age seven. He earned his BA and MA from the University of Chicago, and served in World War II in the Adjutant General’s Office. He received a Bronze Star for his service. After moving to New York City at war’s end, Stepanchev earned his PhD from New York University. He was the author of numerous collections of poetry including Mining the Darkness (1975), Descent (1988), Seven Horizons (1997), and Beyond the Gate: New and Selected Poems (2005), among others. He also wrote the critical study American Poetry Since 1945 (1966).
Stepanchev taught at Queens College, CUNY for 35 years, where he was a beloved teacher and mentor. He was named the first poet laureate of Queens, a post he served from 1997 to 2000. Robert Weller described Stepanchev’s poems as “Whitmanesque in their reflection of universal concerns: projecting urgency about life and death, carpe diem observations” and “a zest for life.” Stepanchev himself described Whitman “as a superintending angel for all of us.” Stepanchev lived for many years in Flushing, Queens, in a studio apartment. After an open-heart surgery in 2003, he moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, where he continued to rise early and write before his death in 2017, at the age of 102.