Vassar College Celebrates Elizabeth Bishop Centenary

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- A major exhibit and symposium organized by the Vassar College Libraries will mark the centenary of the acclaimed poet Elizabeth Bishop, a 1934 Vassar graduate who earned the Pulitzer Prize and many other major U.S. literary honors before her death in 1979. Central to these upcoming events are the unmatched Elizabeth Bishop Papers housed at the college’s Archives and Special Collections Library, which play a vital research role for scholars, writers, and editors from around the world.Notably, these programs dedicated to Elizabeth Bishop are part of Vassar’s special year-long celebration of the sesquicentennial of its founding.

About the exhibit/“From the Archive: Discovering Elizabeth Bishop”
August 30-December 15
Thompson Memorial Library

Curator Ronald Patkus, the Head of Special Collections at the Vassar College Libraries, asked ten Elizabeth Bishop scholars and editors (Joelle Biele, Lorrie Goldensohn, Saskia Hamilton, Bethany Hicok, Brett Millier, Barbara Page, Alice Quinn, Camille Roman, Lloyd Schwartz, and Thomas Travisano) to
select items from Vassar’s Bishop collection that were important to their writing about the poet. For example, Brett Millier (Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It, University of California Press, 1995) selected a composition book that Bishop used in 1934 right after graduating from college; in the book Millier found four pages of writing about the nuances of island life that suggest the origin of several later Bishop poems. Camille Roman (Elizabeth Bishop’s World War II-Cold War View, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) chose for the exhibit an early draft of the poem “12 O’Clock News,” because discovering it at Vassar led Roman to re-read Bishop’s poetry through the frame of war. Alice Quinn picked two drafts of the unfinished story “Homesickness”; earlier, on the invitation of Bishop’s longtime editor Robert Giroux, Quinn edited a volume of Bishop writings that only reside in the Vassar collection (Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments By Elizabeth Bishop, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006).

About the symposium
September 24
Taylor Hall

Hartwick College professor Thomas Travisano will moderate a morning discussion “On Editing Bishop,” with panelists Alice Quinn, Lloyd Schwartz, Saskia Hamilton, and Joelle Biele. Barbara Page, Professor Emeritus at Vassar College, will moderate an afternoon discussion “On Teaching Bishop” with panelists Beth Spires, Lorrie Goldensohn, and Jane Shore. The symposium culminates with a keynote address by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who will also read his new poem dedicated to Vassar’s sesquicentennial and commissioned by the college for the occasion.

About Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop (8 February 1911- 6 October 1979) stands as a major mid-twentieth century American poet, whose influence has been felt among several subsequent generations of poets. Her many prizes included the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, two Guggenheims, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and Brazil's Order of Rio Branco. Bishop's first book of poems, North & South, appeared in 1946; the second, Poems (including North & South and A Cold Spring), in 1955; the third, Questions of Travel, in 1965, and the last, Geography III, in 1976. A one-time Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Bishop also published several poems in The New Yorker, wrote a number of distinctive short stories, and translated poems and prose in three languages, She wrote a volume in the Life World Library on Brazil, and co-edited An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry.

About the Elizabeth Bishop Papers at the Vassar College Libraries

Originally acquired by Vassar College in 1981 from the poet’s estate, the premiere Elizabeth Bishop repository consists of correspondence, personal papers, working papers, notebooks, diaries, and memorabilia, as well as a substantial amount of material by and about the poet’s friends and colleagues. Among the collection are over 3,500 pages of drafts of poems and prose; over 200 letters from poet Marianne Moore discussing their work and mutual friends; and over 200 letters from poet Robert Lowell discussing their work, Bishop’s influence on his work, as well as such prominent writers as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, Flannery O'Connor, and Mary McCarthy.

Vassar has steadily expanded its Bishop collection through donations, bequests, and purchases. “These additions have been both significant and sizeable,” writes curator Ronald Patkus for the publication accompanying the Elizabeth Bishop papers exhibit. “As in the original acquisition, they include a variety of materials, but especially correspondence with friends and fellow poets, such as James Merrill, Emmanuel Brasil, and Lloyd Frankenberg. One of the most important additions came in 2002, when the college acquired a collection from the Portinari family in Brazil, which contained among other things Bishop’s baby book; letters to friends from around the time of her partner Lota’s death; two watercolors; and an annotated copy of the book Brazil, edited by Bishop and first published in 1962.”

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

PUBLIC CONTACT: Vassar College Libraries, (845) 437-5760, Office of Campus Activities, (845) 437-5370

PRESS CONTACT: Jeff Kosmacher, Director of Media Relations & Public Affairs, (845) 437-7404, jekosmacher@vassar.edu

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