Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979) was an American poet and short-story writer.
Orphaned during her very early childhood (her father died when she was eight months old; her mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized in 1916), Bishop lived with her grandparents on a farm in Great Village, Nova Scotia. Later in childhood, her paternal family gained custody, and she moved in with them in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Bishop received very little formal schooling and her elementary education was sporadic, because of frequent attacks of asthma, bronchitis, and eczema. She attended two Massachusetts boarding schools: North Shore Country Day School, in Swampscott, and Walnut Hill School, in Nantick, where she studied music. She then entered Vassar College in the fall of 1929, to study music, and later switched to English.
Working with a group of students that included Mary McCarthy, Eleanor Clark, and Margaret Miller, Bishop co-founded the literary journal Con Spirito, which was conceived as an alternative to the well-established Vassar Review. After moving to New York City following her Vassar graduation in 1934, Bishop had briefly enrolled herself at the Cornell Medical School, but was dissuaded by Marianne Moore from attending the course. Moore helped Bishop first publish some of her poems in an anthology called Trial Balances in which established poets introduced the work of unknown, younger poets.
As a result of an inheritance from her deceased father, Bishop had a small independent income in early adulthood, and was able to travel widely. After graduating, Bishop traveled extensively in Spain, Ireland, Italy, and North Africa. She lived in France for several years in the mid-1930s with a friend from Vassar, Louise Crane. In 1938, Elizabeth and Louise moved to Key West, where the two of them had purchased a house.
Upon receiving a traveling fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951, Bishop set off to travel around South America by boat. After arriving in Brazil, where Bishop expected to stay two weeks, she decided to stay. The poet lived in Brazil for 15 years, with the architect Maria Carlota de Macedo Soares (Lota). After Lota took her own life in 1967, Bishop spent more time in the United States, where she lectured in higher education, first at the University of Washington and then at Harvard University, at New York University, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1971, Bishop began a relationship with Alice Methfessel. In 1979, the poet died of a cerebral aneurysm in her apartment in Boston.
- Poetry collections
- North & South (Houghton Mifflin, 1946)
- Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1955) —winner of the Pulitzer Prize
- A Cold Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1956)
- Questions of Travel (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1965)
- The Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969) —winner of the National Book Award
- Geography III (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1976)
- The Complete Poems: 1927–1979 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983)
- Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments by Elizabeth Bishop ed. Alice Quinn (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006)
- Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011)
- Other works
- The Diary of Helena Morley by Alice Brant, translated and with an Introduction by Elizabeth Bishop, (Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957)
- The Ballad of the Burglar of Babylon (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968)
- An Anthology of Twentieth Century Brazilian Poetry edited by Elizabeth Bishop and Emanuel Brasil, (Wesleyan University Press (1972)
- The Collected Prose (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1984)
- One Art: Letters, selected and edited by Robert Giroux (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994)
- Exchanging Hats: Elizabeth Bishop Paintings, edited and with an Introduction by William Benton (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1996)
- Poems, Prose and Letters Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz, eds. (New York: Library of America, 2008)
- Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell,” ed. Thomas Travisano, Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
- Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop. George Monteiro Ed. (University Press of Mississippi 1996)
Awards and honors
- 1945: Houghton Mifflin Poetry Prize Fellowship
- 1947: Guggenheim Fellowship
- 1949: Appointed Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress
- 1950: American Academy of Arts and Letters Award
- 1951: Lucy Martin Donelly Fellowship (awarded by Bryn Mawr College)
- 1953: Shelley Memorial Award
- 1954: Elected to lifetime membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters
- 1956: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
- 1960: Chapelbrook Foundation Award
- 1964: Academy of American Poets Fellowship
- 1968: Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- 1968: Ingram Merrill Foundation Grant
- 1969: The Order of Rio Branco (awarded by the Brazilian government)
- 1970: National Book Award for Poetry
- 1974: Harriet Monroe Poetry Award
- 1976: Books Abroad/Neustadt International Prize
- 1976: Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 1977: National Book Critics Circle Award
- 1978: Guggenheim Fellowship
- 2010: Elected to inaugural class of the New York Writers Hall of Fame
Articles & Archives
- “Hemingway, Bishop and Key West: Two Writers’ Perspectives”, Thomas Travisano, Berfrois, June 15, 2011
- Helen Vendler phone interview on Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop audio podcast from The New York Review of Books. (Audio, 28 mins) Accessed 2010-09-11
- “Elizabeth Bishop, The Art of Poetry No. 27”. Interview in Paris Review Summer 1981 No. 80
- “‘Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters” April 29, 2008 (audio file 22 mins) from NPR and “Poets’ Letters Describe A Love Of Words” December 14, 2008
- “Casual Perfection: Why did the publication of Elizabeth Bishop’s drafts cause an uproar?” June 13, 2006. Slate Magazine
- Works on Paper: the letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell The New Yorker 84/35 (November 3, 2008) : 106–110
- “The Politics of Editing Bishop’s 1962 Brazil Volume for Life World Library”, Angus Cleghorn, Berfrois, September 20, 2011
- Yale College Lecture on Elizabeth Bishop audio, video and full transcripts from Open Yale Courses. (Audio file, Lecture 24). Yale lecture continued, (Audio file, Lecture 25)
- The Elizabeth Bishop Papers at Washington University in St. Louis Retrieved 2008-04-25
- Audio recordings of Elizabeth Bishop, from the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University
- Profile at the National Book Foundation Poetry Blog
- Profile at the Poetry Archive with poems written and audio
- Profile and poems at Poets.org
- Profile and poems at the Poetry Foundation
- Profile and works at Modern American Poetry
You can hear Bishop reading some of her poems on the Poetry Archive;
On the Poetry Foundation, you can find articles and podcasts about her.