Born Francis Russell O’Hara on June 27, 1926, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Katherine Broderick O’Hara and Russell J. O’Hara, Frank was the oldest of three siblings. The family lived in Baltimore for only a year, moving to Grafton, Massachusetts, in 1927. In grade school, he showed talent for music, studying both piano and harmony. In high school he was a special student of Margaret Mason’s at Boston’s New England Conservatory.
After high school, he was sonarman third class on the USS Nicholas, and following two years in the military, he went to Harvard College, majoring in music but switching his major to English. Harvard proved to be a rich place for O’Hara due to friendships he established while there, including John Ashbery, “Bunny” Lang, and George Montgomery. His first published poems appeared in the Harvard Advocate. Also important is that his interest in drama was nurtured, and he became a founding member of Cambridge’s Poets’ Theatre. While most known for his poetry, O’Hara wrote plays too, often more like playlets, which were performed.
O’Hara continued his education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as a graduate student. His poem “A Byzantine Place” won a Hopwood Award. In 1951 he was granted an M.A. Poets’ Theatre put on his plays. Having completed his M.A., he moved to New York City, the setting for most of his poems. Cecil Beaton hired him as a private secretary, and he worked at the front desk at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as well.
In 1952, Tibor de Nagy Gallery published A City Winter, and Other Poems, his first book. He became increasingly involved in New York’s art scene as well as its literary scene—his poems are a cross section of these two worlds. The