Crane's personal life was anguished and turbulent. After an unhappy childhood during which he was torn between estranged parents, he held a variety of uninteresting jobs, always, however, returning to New York City and his writing. An alcoholic and a homosexual, he was constantly plagued by money problems and was often a severe trial to friends who tried to help him. In 1931 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and went to Mexico to work on a long poem about Latin America; a year later, returning by ship to the United States, the poem not even started, he jumped overboard and drowned. His collected poems were published in 1933.
See Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters (2006), ed. by L. Hammer; letters ed. by T. S. W. Lewis (1974); O My Land, My Friends (1997), selected letters, ed. by L. Hammer and B. Weber; The Correspondence Between Hart Crane and Waldo Frank (1998), ed. by S. H. Cook; biographies by P. Horton (new ed. 1957), J. Unterecker (1969, repr. 1987), P. Mariani (1999), and C. Fisher (2002); studies by R. W. B. Lewis (1967), M. D. Uroff (1974), R. Combs (1978), D. R. Clark, ed. (1982), A. Trachtenberg, ed. (1982), H. Bloom, ed. (1986), M. F. Bennett (1987), W. Berthoff (1989), T. E. Yingling (1990), B. Reed (2006), and G. A. Tapper (2006).
His first novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), a grimly realistic story of slum life, was unpopular but gained the young writer the friendship of Hamlin Garland and William Dean Howells. Crane's next novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895, restored ed. 1982), brought him wide and deserved fame. Set during the Civil War, the novel traces the development of a young recruit, Henry Fleming, through fear, illusion, panic, and cowardice, to a quiet, humble heroism. This remarkable account of the emotions of a soldier under fire is all the more amazing since Crane had never been in battle. On the strength of the novel he served as a foreign correspondent in Cuba and in Greece.
Around 1897 Crane married Cora Taylor, who ran a brothel in Florida. His marriage, coupled with his unorthodox personality, aroused scandalous rumors, including those that he was a drug addict and a satanist. Because of this slander Crane spent his last years abroad; he died of tuberculosis in Germany at the age of 28.
Crane was a superb literary stylist who emphasized irony and paradox and made innovative use of imagery and symbolism. Thus, although realistic, his novels are highly individual. Crane also wrote superb short stories and poems. The title stories of The Open Boat and Other Tales (1898) and The Monster and Other Stories (1899) are considered among the finest stories in English. His two books of epigrammatic free verse, The Black Rider (1895) and War Is Kind (1899), anticipated several strains of 20th-century poetry.
See his works, ed. by F. Bowers (10 vol., 1969-76); letters, ed. by S. Wertheim and P. Sorrentino (2 vol., 1988); biographies by J. Berryman (1950, repr. 1975), R. W. Stallman (1968), and L. H. Davis (1998); studies by M. Holton (1972), R. M. Weatherford, ed. (1973), F. Bergon (1975), D. Halliburton (1989), and C. Benfey (1992); bibliography by R. W. Stallman (1972).
See his memoirs, An Artist's Reminiscences (1907); G. Smith, ed., Walter Crane, 1845-1915 (1989).
See P. Matthiesen, The Birds of Heaven: Travels With Cranes (2001).