Bright Ambush

BY Audrey Wurdemann
Book Information1/1/0/US/JD/1934/?  •  ?  •  ?  •  Pulitzer'35

It's great to be back. I was moving house during this period of absence: renovation for the new place took way longer than anticipated due to various exigencies, and I had to seek temporary lodging that posed difficulty for book collection, cataloguing and general update of this site. But now that the renovation is finally at the beginning of the end, and I've moved in, taking refuge at the second floor, here's a rather interesting copy of 1935 Pulitzer Poetry prize winner.

Audrey Wurdemann won the Pulitzer for "Bright Ambush", her first book published by John Day Company - the defunct New York house that also published Pearl Buck and Lin Yutang - at the age of 24, making her the youngest poet to ever win the Poetry prize. A Pulitzer with a debut at 24, that's impressive by any standard, except that the Pulitzer chronicle revealed that this win was also filled with fortuity. Of that year's 37 entries, the jury deemed Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Amaranth" to be the best, but Robinson had already won the Pulitzer Poetry prize thrice (Robinson was critical acclaimed by this standard - only Frost ranked higher with four wins - but his poems have fallen out of favor in recent times). The next best was Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Wine from these Grapes", but she already won the prize in 1923 with "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver" that, the jury reckoned, was stronger work than "Wine".

The jury was reluctant to bestow Robinson a fourth accolade, and did not want to give the prize to Millay for what it thought was lesser work compared to her earlier winner, so it recommended Audrey Wurdemann's "Bright Ambush" - an experimental work of "beautiful technique on a variety of themes" - as the top choice, but not without mentioning that either Leighton Brewer's "Riders of the Sky" or Leonard Bacon's "Dream and Action", the second and third choices respectively, was worthy of the prize as well. The advisory board gave the prize to Wurdemann. Despite her early success, and three subsequent new work of verses that quickly followed, Wurdemann never quite enjoyed the same acclaim for her later work.

This is what seems to be widely acknowledged as the first printing of the book. The dust jacket, printed on pretty sturdy and thick paper, is VG with the usual close tears, chipping and wrinkles, all relatively minor. The four corners are clipped but does not affect the price at the top right corner of the front flap. At $2.50 for a slim copy of poetry, this book was pretty expensive then considering the mid 1930s was the peak of the Great Depression. It must have been pretty ostentatious to be forking out that kind of money for poetry then. The book is bound in green cloth with gold lettering at the  spine and green top stain. The other two sides are untrimmed and, for this copy at least, are getting brittle with small decaying flakes. The copyright page states the printing year as 1934 with no mention of "first edition" or "first printing". It is also unknown how many copies of the first printing were issued. Happy to hear from anyone with reliable information or source.

Despite its age and the austere macro-economic condition when it was first published, this book is actually not rare, with many copies offered on abebooks and ebay, which leads me to wonder if this is indeed the true first edition.


  1. Hello, is there any chance you could kindly post a photo of Audrey Wurdemann's poem Quiet Sleeping (on page 75)? I have been trying for ages to track this down.
    Thanks so much.


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