Vachel Lindsey was born in Springfield, Illinois, the son of a doctor. He studied medicine at Ohio Hiram College from 1897 to 1900 but, having decided that he did not want to be a doctor, left to attend the Art Institute of Chicago where he spent the next three years. After a further year at the New York School of Art, he turned to writing poetry although he retained an interest in art for the rest of his life. Between 1906 and 1912 he made several long-distance journeys across America, giving theatrical readings of his poems, often accompanied by dramatic gestures, in return for food and lodging. This earned him the soubriquet the Prairie Troubadour.
His published poem, General William Booth Enters into Heaven, appeared in Poetry Magazine in 1913 but it was his poem The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race which brought him to major public attention. After an unsuccessful courtship of the poet Sara Teasdale, he moved to Spokane, Washington in 1924 and the following year married 23 year-old Elizabeth Connor. A daughter was born to them in 1926 and a son a year later. He and his family moved back to Springfield in 1929 where, beset by financial worries caused partly by the Wall Street Crash, he became depressed and took his own life by drinking poison in 1931.
Lindsey had several volumes of poetry published during his lifetime and in the first quarter of the 20th Century was one of America’s best known poets. After his death, however, his poetry fell out of favour. He was a versatile, prolific writer whose poems display a dramatic energy and a tragic intensity and as a travelling bard he succeeded for a time in reviving poetry as an oral art.