Elizabeth Bishop was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century.
Elizabeth Bishop was born in 1911 in Worcester,
Massachusetts. When she was very young her father died,
her mother was committed to a mental asylum, and she was
sent to live with her grandparents in Nova Scotia.
Bishop's mother remained in an asylum until her death in
1934, and the two were never reunited. 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. While she was living in Worcester, she
developed chronic asthma, from which she suffered for
the rest of her life. Her time in Worcester is briefly
chronicled in her poem "In The Waiting Room."
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 majoring in English where
she took courses including 16th and 17th century
literature graduating in 1934.
After graduating, Elizabeth Bishop lived in New York.
Elizabeth Bishop received a sizable inheritance from
your father, and her income allowed her to travel
extensively in France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and North
Africa. Her poetry is filled with descriptions of her
journeys and the sights she saw. In 1938, Elizabeth
Bishop moved to
Key West, where she wrote many of the
poems that eventually were collected in her Pulitzer
Prize-winning North and South. In 1951 she left Key West, and
for fourteen years she lived in Brazil, where she and
her lover, the architect Lota de Macedo Soares, became a
curiosity in the town of Pétropolis.
Elizabeth Bishop was a perfectionist who did not write
prolifically, preferring instead to spend long periods
of time polishing her work. She published only 101 poems
during her lifetime. Her verse is marked by precise
descriptions of the physical world and an air of poetic
serenity, but her underlying themes include the struggle
to find a sense of belonging, and the human experiences
of grief and longing. Questions of Travel
(1965), was Elizabeth Bishop's third collection, and
contained twenty new poems and the short story "In the
Village." The story was included at the urging of Robert
Lowell, who had printed a lengthy autobiographical prose
piece in his enormously influential collection Life
1959. A collected edition of her poetry appeared
in 1969, and won the National Book Award. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, Elizabeth 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,
Bishop became the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and remains the only American to be awarded that prize.