Elizabeth Bishop

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

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