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Elizabeth Bishop

(1911—1979) American poet


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(1911–1979)

US poet whose brilliant and often witty verse belied her troubled life as ‘the loneliest person who ever lived’.

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop was effectively orphaned in infancy by the death of her father and the insanity of her mother. Early years passed with her grandparents in the security of Great Village, Nova Scotia, were to provide a recurrent motif in her adult writing. An asthmatic semi-invalid, she achieved a poor school attendance record but graduated from the prestigous women's college, Vassar (1934), where she met her lifelong friend and mentor, the poet Marianne Moore. Another crucial friendship was with the poet Robert Lowell. After travelling in Europe and North Africa (1935–37), Bishop lived briefly in Key West, Florida, and in Mexico struggling with asthma, alcoholism, and depression.

When her first collection of verse, North and South (1946), was published with the second, A Cold Spring, in 1955, the combined volume was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. By then Bishop was living contentedly in Brazil with her lover, Lota, and continued to do so until Lota's suicide from overwork in 1967. During this period Bishop wrote a travel book about Brazil and made translations from Portuguese and Spanish. The publication of her Collected Poems in 1970 resulted in a National Book Award, and in 1971 Brazil honoured her with the Order of the Rio Branco. The last twelve years of Bishop's life were passed in her native Massachusetts, teaching creative writing at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her final collection of poems, Geography III (1976), won the Books Abroad/Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The posthumous publication of selections of her letters enhanced the reputation of her prose, established in her lifetime by short stories written for The New Yorker.

Subjects: Literature.


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