Elizabeth Bishop

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Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979), was an American poet and writer. She enjoyed critical acclaim in her lifetime, and her poetry continues to be widely read and studied. She is considered one of the finest 20th century poets to have written in English.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Young adulthood
  • 3 Writing career
  • 4 Works
  • 5 Awards and honors
  • 6 Bibliography
  • 7 External links

Early life

Elizabeth Bishop was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to William Thomas Bishop and Gertrude Bulmer Bishop. Elizabeth’s father, who was an executive of Bishop Contractors, a family-owned New England construction firm, died of Bright's disease when she was eight months old. In the wake of that event, Bishop’s mother descended into mental illness and was institutionalized in 1916, when Elizabeth was five. Although Bishop’s mother would live until 1934 in an asylum, Elizabeth would never see her again.

Effectively an orphan, Bishop lived with her Canadian Bulmer grandparents in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a period she remembered fondly and would later idealize in her writing. She spent an unhappy nine months with her father's family in Boston, Massachusetts (see her memoir “The Country Mouse”), where she developed asthma and eczema, the first of many allergies suffered in her lifetime. Her health improved when she moved near Boston to live with her mother’s sister, Aunt Jenny.

Bishop’s excellent education was financed by a small trust endowed by her father, which diminished over the years with inflation. Bishop boarded at the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, where her first poems were published by her friend Frani Blough in a student magazine. She entered Vassar College in the fall of 1929, the year of the stock market crash. In 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.

Young adulthood

Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore, to whom she was introduced by the 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. It was four years before Bishop addressed ‘Dear Miss Moore’ as ‘Dear Marianne,’ and only then at the elder poet’s invitation. The friendship between the two women, memorialized by an extensive correspondence (see One Art), endured until Moore's death in 1972.

Bishop is a poet of geographic meditations and displacements (the first poem in her first book North & South is called “The Map”). She traveled widely and lived in many cities and countries, many of which are described in her poems. She lived in France for several years in the mid-1930s, thanks in part to the patronage of Vassar friend, Louise Crane, who was a paper-manufacturing heiress. In 1938 Bishop purchased a house with Crane at 624 White Street in Key West, Florida. While living there Bishop made the acquaintance of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, who had divorced Ernest in 1940.

She was introduced to Robert Lowell by Randall Jarrell in 1947. She wrote the poem "Visits to St. Elizabeth's" in 1950 as a recollection of visits to Ezra Pound when he was confined there. She also met James Merrill in 1947, and became a close friend of the poet in later years.

Writing career

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 Randall Jarrell — then the most important poetry critic in America — to write that “all her poems have written underneath, I have seen it.”

Bishop, who struggled financially through much of her career, increasingly relied on grants, fellowships, and awards to support her writing. Upon receiving a substantial $2,500 travelling 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. However, while there she met Lota de Macedo Soares, a Brazilian woman from a prominent political family, with whom she had a romantic relationship. Bishop stayed in Brazil for fifteen years, leaving the country just prior to Soares' suicide in 1967.

While living in Brazil in 1956, Bishop received the Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poetry, North & South — A Cold Spring. She later received 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.[1]

Bishop often contributed articles to The New Yorker, and in 1964 wrote the obituary for Flannery O'Connor in The New York Review of Books.

Bishop lectured in higher education for a number of years. For a short time she taught at the University of Washington, before moving to Harvard for seven years. She also taught at New York University, before finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She often spent her summers in her summer house in Maine, on an island called North Haven.



  • North & South (Houghton Mifflin, 1946)
  • Poems: North & South — A Cold Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1955)
  • A Cold Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1956)
  • Questions of Travel (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1965)
  • The Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969)
  • 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, edited and annotated by Alice Quinn, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006)

Other works:

  • The Diary of "Helena Morley," by Alice Brant, translated and with an Introduction by Elizabeth Bishop, (Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1957)
  • "Three Stories by Clarice Lispector," Kenyon Review 26 (Summer 1964): 500-511.
  • 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: Paintings, edited and with an Introduction by William Benton, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 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: Ingram-Merrill Foundation Grant
  • 1969: National Book Award
  • 1969: The Order of the Rio Branco (awarded by the Brazilian government)
  • 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


  • Costello, Bonnie (1991). Elizabeth Bishop: Questions of Mastery. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674246896. 
  • Kalstone, David (1989). Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374109605. 
  • Millier, Brett (1993). Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520079787. 
  • Bishop, Elizabeth (1996). Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 0878058710. 
  • Travisano, Thomas (1988). Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0813911591. 
  • An excerpt from Anne Stevenson, Five Looks at Elizabeth Bishop, (Bloodaxe, 2006) [3]
  • Lys Anzia, "Like a Jeweled Box Waiting at the Bottom of the Sea: Quinn Offers a New View of Elizabeth Bishop," a review of Edgar Allan Poe and the Juke Box in Moondance magazine June-Sept. 2006 [4]
  • Tess Taylor, "Paper Trail (Interview with Alice Quinn)," Atlantic Monthly January 20, 2006[5]
  • Motoko Rich, "New Elizabeth Bishop Book Sparks a Controversy," NY Times[citation needed]
  • Poems by Elizabeth Bishop at PoetryFoundation.org
  • Elizabeth Bishop at Vassar College
  • Elizabeth Bishop's poetry Excellent introduction, includes audio presentation
  • See also connection to the poem Casabianca (poem) by Felicia Hemans which Elizabeth Bishop also wrote a version of, Casabianca (Elizabeth Bishop version).
  • Elizabeth Bishop: Why Is She So Good? – an essay on ReadySteadyBook
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