Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop was born February 8, 1911, in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Her father died when she was only a baby, and her mother was committed to a mental institution when she was five, leaving Bishop to be raised by family members in Nova Scotia.  Pieces of her life there are recounted in poems like “First Death in Nova Scotia.”  For the sake of her education, however, Bishop eventually went to live with her paternal grandparents in Massachusetts.  She loved writing from a young age, and tried to emulate her favorite poets in her own writing at Vassar, where she attended and graduated in 1934.  In the years after college, Bishop traveled extensively to France, Spain, and Italy before she settled in Key West for four years.  It was this location that was inspiration for her first collection of poems, North and South (1946).   Nine years later, she reprouced these poems along with new material in her second book, North and South— A Cold Spring (1955), winning a Pulitzer Prize for the collection.

For fourteen years, Bishop lived in Brazil with Lota de Macedo Soares, an aristocrat whom she had met in New York.  The two had a long relationship until Soares committed suicide in 1967.  Bishop’s Questions of Travel (1966) was dedicated to her and featured several poems set in her South American locale. 

In her later years, Bishop taught at Harvard, where she took over for friend and fellow poet Robert Lowell.  She published Geography III in 1976, a few years before her death in 1979.  Although Bishop was not prolific in her writing (she only published around a hundred poems during her lifetime), she is regarded as a highly talented and technically proficient poet.  Unlike contemporaries Lowell and Anne Sexton, who were leading the confessional movement of the time, Bishop wrote more universally, capturing the natural world around her.  In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, she received a Houghton Mifflin Poetry Award in 1945, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1947, among many other accolades.