Born in 1877 in Kentucky, Charles Hanson Towne was probably as widely known for his New York urbanite lifestyle as his poetic works. He wanted to become a writer from an early age and even produced a magazine with some of his friends when he was just eleven years old. Not much is known about Towne’s childhood with the exception of his move from Kentucky to New York where he would spend the majority of the remainder of his life.
After a general education, Towne went to the City College in New York but lasted just a year before he decided to take an alternative direction. Offered the position of assistant editor on a magazine he finally found himself working on one of the most popular and avant garde publications of the time, The Smart Set.
Begun in March 1900, The Smart Set provided a first step on the literary ladder for many writers of the age. It was run by William d’Alton Mann who also owned a gossip magazine called Town Topics. He wanted to provide the New York populace with something a little more sophisticated and employed Arthur Grissom to edit the first copy. Grissom died of tuberculosis some time later and his replacement, Martin Dana, left in 1904.
His replacement was Towne who, more than any of the editors to that date, pushed for new talent to be showcased on the magazine. Under his editorship, the magazine prospered, reaching a circulation of over 160,000. It was a good start but because of some impropriety by Mann the magazine began to lose its readership shortly after, leading Towne to tender his resignation in 1908.
Though much of his career was taken up working as an editor for various magazines, Towne was also an accomplished poet in his own right and published his first collection, The Quiet Singer and Other Poems in the same year that he left The Smart Set.
He worked on a number of other magazines including Harper’s Bazaar as well as New York American for whom he wrote humorous columns for several years. As time went on Towne became just as famous for his social life as he did for his work as either editor or poet.
He wrote Youth and Other Poems in 1911 and published Beyond the Stars and Other Poems in 1913. His work has often been republished in anthologies over the years and his verse is characterized as simple and poignant. In his later years, Towne taught at Columbia University and influenced a whole new generation of writers and poets including Catcher in the Rye author J D Salinger.
Towne died in 1949 at the age of 72.