cover image Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

Megan Marshall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-544-61730-8

Marshall, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in biography for Margaret Fuller, takes an excursion through the life of Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979), one of 20th-century America’s foremost poets. After surviving a troubled childhood with a sadistic uncle, a modest inheritance allowed Bishop to attend Vassar and afterward gave her the freedom to pursue poetry. Lovers led her from Paris to Key West to Petrópolis, Brazil. Bishop drank heavily and had to keep her lesbianism secret, but she also led a rich existence; she traveled the Amazon, swam naked in a lover’s pool in secluded Petrópolis, and all the while produced a small but incomparable body of art. Marshall, weaving her own encounters with Bishop in the 1970s into this biography, expertly shows this charmed and sometimes sad life in intelligent, clear, and beautiful prose. Marshall repeatedly asserts that Bishop was “shy” but never reconciles this descriptor with the woman she shows interviewing T.S. Eliot, editing the Vassar yearbook, and finding a fashionable literary clique. Likewise, how was this winsome woman “difficult,” as repeatedly claimed? But even if the poet herself remains elusive in this telling, this book is still a generous, enjoyable piece of work. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc. (Feb.)