On February 24, 1914, Weldon Kees was born in Beatrice, Nebraska. His father, John Kees, owned a hardware store. As a boy, Kees had a keen interest in music, art, and writing. He also published his own movie magazine. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Nebraska. While still in college, Kees began to publish fiction in many mid-western literary magazines. Between 1934 and 1945, he published more than thirty stories.
Kees began to write and publish poems shortly after college. His first job was working for the Federal Writers' Project in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1937, he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he served as the Director of the Bibliographical Center of Research for the Rocky Mountain Region. In Denver, he married Ann Swan. In 1943, the couple moved to New York City, where Kees wrote for Time magazine and published reviews in national magazines and newspapers such as The Nation and The New Republic. In the mid-forties, he also began to paint; he had one-man shows at galleries including the Peridot Gallery. His painting was often shown with and compared to abstract expressionists such as William de Kooning.
Kees's first collection of poems, The Last Man, was published in 1943. His second collection, The Fall of Magicians, first appeared in 1947. Kees moved to San Francisco in 1951. In California, he began to study and play jazz piano. He also collaborated Dr. Jurgen Ruesch, a University of California psychiatrist, on the book Nonverbal Communication (1956), which was illustrated with photographs by Kees. He continued to paint and to write poems. His jobs included writing film reviews for radio, writing for a theater review entitled Poets Follies, and working on screenplays. Much of this writing is collected in the volume Reviews and Essays, 1936-1955 (1988). In the mid 1950s, Kees became increasingly depressed. He divorced his wife in 1952. His final book, Poems 1947-1954, was published in 1954. On July 18, 1955, his car was found abandoned on the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. He had told a friend that he wanted, like Hart Crane, to start a new life in Mexico. He had also suggested that he might kill himself.
Five years after his disappearance and presumed suicide, Kees's Collected Poems was first published. In his introduction to that volume, Donald Justice called Kees "among the three or four best of his generation." Justice went on to note that "Kees is original in one of the few ways that matter: he speaks to us in a voice or, rather, in a particular tone of voice which we have never heard before." Kees's Collected Poems have since been reprinted twice. His collection of fiction, Ceremony and Other Stories, first appeared in 1983.
The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (Bison Books, 2003)