Love Unknown: The Life and Worlds of Elizabeth Bishop

Thomas Travisano. Viking, $32 (432p) ISBN 978-0-525-42881-7
Drawing on an extraordinary level of archival access, Travisano (editor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell), a professor emeritus of English at Hartwick College, offers a definitive biography–cum–literary study of Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979). As Travisano asserts, even “her more elusive or enigmatic poems... seem almost transparent when biographical insights are sensitively applied.” Familial traumas (her father’s death when she was an infant and her mother’s struggles with mental illness) and a disrupted childhood spent being passed among various relatives found reflection in poems such as “Sestina,” which describes her realization that her mother had been institutionalized. Travisano follows Bishop’s career through her earliest juvenilia; her blossoming years at Vassar (1929–1934); her friendships with other poets, such as Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell; and her many travels—most significantly, the intended two-week stay in Brazil that stretched into 14 years, chronicled in the major work Questions of Travel (1965). Travisano also tracks Bishop’s accumulating honors—a 1946 Guggenheim Fellowship, 1956 Pulitzer Prize, and 1970 National Book Award—and deepening renown among her peers. Explaining how a writer who published barely a hundred poems during her lifetime left a lasting imprint on later generations of poets, Travisano’s essential volume illuminates Bishop’s life and, most valuably, her work. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 08/22/2019
Release date: 11/05/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-14-311128-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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