The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Kresensky, Raymond Joseph
(December 28, 1892–September 25, 1955)

–writer—was born in Algona, Iowa, the seventh of 10 children of Julius Carl Kresensky and Helene (Ohm) Kresensky. Raymond went to school in Algona and in 1922 graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids with a B.A. He then attended McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian church in 1929, and served as a pastor in Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska.

    During the 1930s, Kresensky turned to writing poetry and short stories. In 1931 the Torch Press in Cedar Rapids, publisher of trade editions and fine press books, published his first book of poetry, Emmaus, Luke 24, 13- 35, a volume dealing with religious themes. He also published poetry in magazines and newspapers such as Poetry, the Midland, and the New York Times, and in anthologies. In 1935 a powerful poem titled "Mortgage Sale" appeared in Contemporary Iowa Poets, published by the Prairie Press in Muscatine. On April 26 and 27, 1935, Kresensky joined Jay Sigmund, Louis Worthington Smith, James Hearst, and Don Farran, all prominent Iowa poets, at an "Iowa Literary Caucus" held in Iowa City sponsored by the State University of Iowa and the Iowa Authors Club.

    Kresensky also wrote short stories, book reviews, and sketches. Like his poetry, the short stories often had realistic agrarian themes. His stories appeared in such little magazines as Hinterland, the Dubuque Dial, and Prairie Schooner. The June 6, 1934, issue of the New Republic carried his sketch of John Dillinger and his gang robbing a small town bank and getting away.

    In response to unemployment during the Great Depression, the federal government established the Works Progress Administration (WPA). One of the WPA's "Federal One" arts programs was the Federal Writers' Project (FWP), begun in 1935 to give relief to writers. Its task was to produce a guidebook for every state in its American Guide Series. In 1937 Raymond Kresensky became the state director of the FWP in Iowa. As director, he served as editor of Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State, a 583-page book published in 1938 by the Viking Press. The book was "Sponsored by the State Historical Society of Iowa to Commemorate the Centenary of the Organization of Iowa Territory."Part one consisted of essays on topics such as the natural setting and American Indians. Major cities and towns made up part two, and tours of the state were in part three. To complete the project, Kresensky hired writers in different parts of the state to work on various subjects. Copy was submitted to Des Moines and then sent to the State Historical Society, where Ruth Gallaher gave it a critical examination. Finally, manuscripts were forwarded to Washington, D.C., for final vetting. Kresensky was in the middle of the process and kept the project on track. Still of value for reference, the book was reprinted in 1949 and 1986, and first editions are now a localized rarity. Kresensky left the FWP in 1939.

    He next endeavored to foster poetry in Iowa by organizing poetry groups. He was one of the founders of the Iowa Poetry Association and served as treasurer and later president. He was also instrumental in editing the association's publication, Lyrical Iowa. At the time of his death on September 25, 1955, he was employed as a sales clerk in the sporting goods department of Younkers Department Store in Des Moines. After his death, his sister Mildred K. Allen published a memorial volume titled Selected Poems (1956).
Sources There seems to be no collection of Kresensky's papers, but letters from him can be found in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, and the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City. For more information, see Julia Mickenberg, "Left at Home in Iowa: Progressive Regionalists and the WPA Guide to 1930s Iowa," Annals of Iowa 56 (1997), 233–66; and John Edward Westburg, "Raymond Kresensky: The Poet and His Endeavors," in The Complete Poems of Raymond Kresensky, vol. 1 (1986).
Contributor: Robert A. Mccown