Elizabeth Bishop Childhood & Early Years
Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was the only child of her parents. Her father was a successful builder and died when Bishop was just eight months old. After the demise of her father, her mother suffered from mental illness and in 1916, was committed in hospital where she stayed till her death in 1934. Therefore, Bishop more or less became orphaned during her early life only. She then resided with her maternal grandparents on a farm in Nova Scotia. A lot of works of Bishop contained a mention of this period. Also, she never met her mother after the latter got admitted in an asylum. Afterwards in her late childhood, her paternal grandparents won her custody and she was moved away from her maternal grandparent’s house to the wealthier father’s family in Worcester, Massachusetts. But Bishop was not happy living in Worcester and felt quite lonely in the absence of her maternal grandparents. Eventually, she encountered a lifetime chronic asthma. She described her time in Worcester in her work “In The Waiting Room”. She went to the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts and learned music there. In the school, her first poems were published by her friend, Frani Blough in a student magazine. Later, she got admission in Vassar College in 1929, briefly prior the crash of stock market and thought of becoming a composer. But she quitted music due to the terror of performance and took English where she chose subjects like 16th and 17th century literature and the novel. Bishop’s work got published in “The Magazine” when she was in her senior year. In 1933, she became co-founder of “Con Spirito” which was a rebellious literary magazine at Vassar accompanied by writer Mary McCarthy, Margaret Miller, and the sisters Eunice and Eleanor Clark. The following year, Bishop graduated. Introduced to Marianne Moore by a librarian at Vassar in 1934, Bishop got too much influenced by her. Moore, on the other hand, too took deep interest in the poems of Bishop and also at one time dissuaded Bishop from going in Cornell Medical School, in which she had taken admission when she shifted to New York after getting graduating at Vassar. In 1947, she got introduced to Robert Lowell by Randall Jarrell. The two influenced each other’s poetry. Also, one of the last published poems of Bishop was written in Lowell’s remembrance in 1978.
Travel & Success
Bishop had enough money from her father’s inheritance that did not run out even until her death. Therefore, having this inheritance, she had no worry of employment and kept on journeying different places. She resided in several cities and countries which are mentioned in her works. In the mid-1930s, she resided in France for many years accompanied by a friend she met at Vassar, Louise Crane. Crane was a paper-manufacturing heiress by profession. Bishop and Crane bought a house in 1938 at 624 White Street in Key West, Florida. In 1940, she acquainted with Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway. Marianne Moore suggested the name of Bishop for the Houghton Mifflin Prize for poetry in 1946 and then she became its receiver too. Bishop’s first book titled “North & South” was published in 1946 in thousand copies. In 1951, she gained a traveling fellowship of $2,500 from Bryn Mawr College and traveled to South America by boat. She reached in Santos, Brazil in November 1951 with a plan of two weeks stay but amazingly resided for fifteen years. She resided in Pétropolis with architect Lota de Macedo Soares who was from an eminent and famous political family. During his stay in Brazil, she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for a collection of poetry. She also gained great interest in the languages and literatures of Latin America. Bishop translated into English and took deep interest in the works of South and Central American poets, also Mexican poet, Octavio Paz and Brazilian poets João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Soares, in 1967, committed suicide and Bishop later spent much of her time in United States.
Bishop became a proud receiver of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as two Guggenheim Fellowships and an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. Bishop also became the first woman to gain the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976. For several years, she gave lectures in higher education in the 1970s, when her inheritance started running out. Briefly, she taught at the University of Washington and then at Harvard University for seven years. She frequently used to spend summers in her summer house in the island community of North Haven, Maine. Bishop taught at New York University, prior completing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1971, she commenced a relationship with Alice Methfessel. The last book of Bishop got published in 1977 called the “Geography III”.
Bishop died on October 6, 1979 of a cerebral aneurysm in her apartment at Lewis Wharf, Boston. She was interred in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Awards & 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: Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
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