Elizabeth Bishop Papers
The collection consists primarily of letters and cards from Elizabeth Bishop to Anne Stevenson providing biographical information to be used in writing Elizabeth Bishopas part of Twayne's United States Authors Series. Bishop also discusses her work and comments on literary figures including Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Ernest Hemingway, John Berryman, and many others. Included with the collection are one typed letter signed from Marianne Moore to Stevenson discussing Bishop; letters from people at Vassar who knew Bishop as a student; and several typed letters [carbon] from Stevenson to Bishop. A newspaper clipping from the New York Timesconcerning Bishop is included. Letters bulk 1963-1965. Letters originate from Brooklyn, New York, New York City, Poughkeepsie, New York, Waterloo, Massachusetts, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Seattle, Washington, San Francisco, London, Lodsworth, Sussex, Rio de Janeiro, Samambaia, Petrópolis, and Ouro Preto, Brazil.
- Bishop, Elizabeth, 1911-1979 (Creator, Person)
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Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979) was an American poet, short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and the National Book Award winner in 1970. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century.
Elizabeth Bishop, an only child, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her father, a successful builder, died when she was eight months old, Bishop’s mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized in 1916. Effectively orphaned during her very early childhood, she lived with her grandparents on a farm in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a period she also referenced in her writing. Later in childhood, Bishop's paternal family gained custody, and she was removed from the care of her grandparents and moved in with her father's wealthier family in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, Bishop was unhappy in Worcester, and her separation from her grandparents made her lonely. While she was living in Worcester, she developed chronic asthma, from which she suffered for the rest of her life.
Bishop boarded at the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, where she studied music. At the school her first poems were published by her friend Frani Blough in a student magazine. Then she entered Vassar College in the fall of 1929, planning to be a composer. She gave up music because of a terror of performance and switched to English where she took courses including 16th and 17th century literature and the novel. Bishop published her work in her senior year inThe Magazine (based in California) and 1933, she co-founded Con Spirito, a rebel literary magazine at Vassar, with writer Mary McCarthy (one year her senior), Margaret Miller, and the sisters Eunice and Eleanor Clark. Bishop graduated in 1934. Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore to whom she was introduced by a librarian at Vassar in 1934. Moore took a keen interest in Bishop’s work, and at one point Moore dissuaded Bishop from attending Cornell Medical School, in which the poet had briefly enrolled herself after moving to New York City following her Vassar graduation. The friendship between the two women endured until Moore's death in 1972. She was also introduced to Robert Lowell by Randall Jarrell in 1947 and they became great friends, mostly through their written correspondence, until Lowell's death in 1977. They also both influenced each other's poetry.
In 1949 to 1950, she was Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress. In 1946, Marianne Moore suggested Bishop for the Houghton Mifflin Prize for poetry, which Bishop won. Her first book, North & South, was published in 1,000 copies. The book prompted the literary critic Randall Jarrell to write that “all her poems have written underneath, 'I have seen it,'" referring to Bishop's talent for vivid description. Bishop had an independent income in early adulthood as a result of an inheritance from her deceased father that did not run out until the end of her life. With this inheritance, Bishop was able to travel widely without worrying about employment and lived in many cities and countries which are described in her poems. Upon receiving a substantial $2,500 traveling fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951, Bishop set off to circumnavigate South America by boat. Arriving in Santos, Brazil in November of that year, Bishop expected to stay two weeks but stayed fifteen years. She lived in Pétropolis with architect Lota de Macedo Soares, descended from a prominent and notable political family. While living in Brazil, Bishop won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, for the collection Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring, which combined her first two books. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, Bishop won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as two Guggenheim Fellowships and an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. In 1976, she became the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and remains the only American to be awarded that prize. It was during her time in Brazil that Elizabeth Bishop became increasingly interested in the languages and literatures of Latin America. She was influenced by South and Central American poets, including the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, as well as the Brazilian poets João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade and translated their work into English. After Soares took her own life in 1967 Bishop spent more time in the US. In contrast to this confessional style involving large amounts of self-exposure, Bishop's style of writing, though it sometimes involved sparse details from her personal life, was known for its highly detailed and objective, distant point of view and for its reticence on the sordid subject matter that obsessed her contemporaries.
Bishop lectured in higher education for a number of years starting in the 1970s when her inheritance began to run out. For a short time she taught at the University of Washington, before teaching at Harvard University for seven years. She often spent her summers in her summer house in the island community of North Haven, Maine. She taught at New York University, before finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1971, Bishop began a relationship with Alice Methfessel. Never a prolific writer, Bishop noted that she would begin many projects and leave them unfinished. She published her last book in 1976, Geography III. Three years later, she died of a cerebral aneurysm in her apartment at Lewis Wharf, Boston.
Method of Acquisition
Accession number 808. Purchase from House of Books, Ltd., February 3, 1967.
Accession number 1429. Purchase from Bertram Rota Ltd, November 15, 1974.
- Elizabeth Bishop Papers
- Description rules
- Language of description
- 2021 February 16: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.
Collecting Area Details
Part of the Manuscripts Collecting Area
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis MO 63130 US