Edmund Skellings was born on March 12, 1932, in Ludlow, Massachusetts, and grew up in nearby Chicopee Falls. He graduated from Suffield Academy in 1947, and entered the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Partway through his undergraduate studies, Skellings joined the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, serving as a paratrooper for three years. He returned to the University of Massachusetts to complete his B.A. with English Honors in 1957. Skellings received his Ph.D. in British and American Literature from the University of Iowa in 1962, where he had attended the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop. For his creative dissertation, Skellings published Duels and Duets, a “record-book” which consisted of a print book of poetry accompanied by vinyl recordings of the poems read by the poet.
Dr. Skellings’ first fulltime teaching position at Frostburg State University in Maryland ended after a year due to an academic freedom fight over book censorship. Skellings became an Associate Professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks where he developed a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing and the Alaska Writers Workshop. After learning to fly, Skellings founded the Alaska Flying Poets supported by a Project Upward Bound federal grant.
During his five years in Alaska, Skellings broke away from the formal structure of poetry and examined interior meaning of words and sound values with performance of poetry in mind. He called his new poetic works Live Concert. He moved to South Florida to teach at Florida Atlantic University from 1968-1973. When he wasn’t teaching about Shakespeare or poetry, Skellings toured colleges as the First Electric Poet and experimented in his home studio with surround sound and repeating tape recorders.
In 1974, Edmund Skellings was appointed Director of the International Institute for Creative Communication at Florida International University in Miami. He administered NEA grants for the Poetry-in-the Schools program. At this time, he turned his attention to writing traditional poetry and produced three books in three years. Skellings published Heart Attacks (1976), Face Value (1977), and Showing My Age (1977) with the University Presses of Florida. In 1980, Governor Bob Graham appointed Edmund Skellings Poet Laureate of Florida, a lifetime honor. Skellings published another book of poetry entitled Living Proof a few years later with the same press.
Skellings never lost his desire to make poetry more relevant to capture a wider audience. In 1978, he filed for a patent to illustrate how matching colors on a computer screen could highlight fundamental elements of poetry such as rhyme schemes, alliteration, etc. He designed the Electric Poet color authoring program for IBM (1984) and Easy Street financial software for McGraw/Hill (1986). Both companies took patent licenses for Skellings’ Color Language Teaching Method. Also during the 1980’s, Skellings developed a computer arts network called ARTNET. He designed and implemented a computer information network system for the Florida House of Representatives.
Skellings was appointed Director of the Florida Center for Electronic Communication at Florida Atlantic University in 1990, with a mission to study and demonstrate telecommunication applications for education, government, and industry in Florida. Building on his research, he adapted the new technology to enrich poetry for the digital age. Skellings directed a team of computer artists to animate his poetry in 3D. His Super Poems video debuted at the Mark Goodson Theater in Hollywood and was endorsed by the American Film Institute. The animations were later remastered with surround sound on DVD under the title Word Songs.
During the late 1990’s, Florida Atlantic University offered one of the first M.F.A. degrees in Computer Arts anywhere in the world. Many of Skellings’ students used poetry as a story line for their animations and won awards at international video film festivals.
In 1998, Edmund Skellings published his Collected Poems 1958-1998 with the University Press of Florida. It included his former Florida publications and a new collection of poetry entitled Personal Effects. Much like his first record-book, this volume of poetry was accompanied by an audio recording of Selected Poems read by the poet on CD.
In 2006, Edmund Skellings retired from Florida Atlantic University. A year later, he was appointed University Professor of Humanities at the Florida Institute of Technology, where he donated his archives to Evans Library. The Edmund Skellings Special Collection contains poetry written and performed by Edmund Skellings as well as recordings of his live performances, television appearances, and lectures. His literary letters, publications, and academic and business activities are also included.
Edmund Skellings passed away on August 19, 2012.