James Arlington Wright, one of the most prolific American poets of the 20th century, was the proud recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. Wright made a debut in the literary world in the year 1956, with 'The Green Wall'. The book not only earned him rave reviews, but also won him Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. Thereafter, there was no stopping for this talented poet. His second book, 'Saint Judas' came soon after and earned him Ohiona Book Award. Later on in his life, Wright shed the conservational style and adopted the contemporary writing style. It was his book 'The Branch Will Not Break', which gave Wright's new mode its maximum expression. Apart from the prestigious awards, Wright also received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Childhood & Early Life
JamesArlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on December 13, 1927. While his father had a job in a glass factory, his mother worked in a laundry. In 1943, when Wright was still in high school, he suffered a nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. Graduating a year late, in 1946, he joined the army and was stationed in Japan, during the American occupation. After coming back from the army, he joined Kenyon College and graduated with honors in 1952. There, instead of studying vocational subjects, Wright focused his attention on English and Russian literature. During his graduation, he had published 20 journals, won Robert Frost Poetry Prize and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1953, he married Liberty Kardules in Martins Ferry. Thereafter, he moved to Vienna, along with his wife, to study at the University of Vienna. For a year, Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl, on a Fulbright fellowship.
In 1954, James Wright enrolled himself at the University of Washington. Studying under Theodore Roethke, he earned a master's degree and went on to pursue a doctoral degree. In 1957, he made his debut with 'The Green Wall' and was awarded with the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. Around the same time, i.e. after the publication of 'The Green Wall', Wright was offered the position of a professor at the University of Minnesota. In 1959, he attained his doctorate, with a thesis on Charles Dickens. While his professional life was soaring high, his personal life turned sour. The marriage with Liberty Kardules ended in a disaster and the two separated in 1962.
Around the time of his separation, Wright made friends with Robert Bly, a poet, who was struggling to make a mark in the world. Together, both of them explored the boundaries of poetic language and worked on European and Latin American poets, like Georg Trakl and Cesar Vallejo. Soon, his second collection, 'Saint Judas', was published in the distinguished Wesleyan University Press. Three years later, in 1962, he was awarded with the Ohiona Book Award for 'Saint Judas'. During these years, Wright had become an illustrious poet. His works featured in the major publications and journals, such as the Sewannee Review, the New Yorker and New Orleans Poetry Review.
Despite his achievements in the literary field, the University of Minnesota had doubts about Wright's qualification for becoming a tenured professor, resulting in his relocation to Macalester College. In 1963, his third book, previously titled 'Amenities of Stone', was released under the name 'The Branch Shall Not Break'. The book proved to be one of the most influential volumes of the 1960s. Also It also market Wright's movement, away from the conservative trend and style, and towards the more experimental, free verse.
After his teaching experience at the Macalester College, Wright held a similar position in the Hunter College (1966). A year later, in 1967, he met Edith Ann Runk (Annie) and eventually, the two of them married and moved to New York. The two gelled very well and explored each other's positive qualities. Apart from supporting Wright's poetry, Annie also tamed down his drinking habit. Around this time, he published 'Shall We Gather at the River', a collection that, one may say, unified because it seemed like one long poem or notes for a long poem.
James Wright and Annie were always on the move. They would spend their summers in Paris and Italy, traveling from one hotel to another, just lazing around and writing poetry. In his last year, Wright and his wife traveled throughout Europe, until September 1979. He would often write back, about his new found life, to his friends in the US. In the autumn of 1979, when Wright and Annie reached USA, the former got hospitalized with a severe sore throat. He was diagnosed with cancer, which was neither treatable, nor could be operated upon. In 1980, his last book, 'This Journey' was published.
On the 25th of March, 1980, James Wright left for the heavenly abode. His funeral was held at the same church Wright and Annie got married in - Riverside Church.
In 1953, James Wright married Liberty Kardules, in Martins Ferry. The same year, the couple was blessed with a baby boy, whom they named Franz. Later, in 1958, Marshall was born. However, things were not as smooth as they had been earlier. Wright left his wife in 1959. Things worsened further and eventually, they got divorced in 1962. Four years later, Wright met Edith Ann Runk and the two got married. His second marriage was blissful, with Annie bringing out his positive side and making him a better person.
1972 - Pulitzer Prize, for Collected Poems
1957 - Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, for 'The Green Wall'
1962 - Ohiona Book Award, for 'Saint Judas'
Poems Published During His Lifetime
1957 - The Green Wall
1959 - Saint Judas
1963 - The Branch Will Not Break, Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio
1967 - Shall We Gather at the River
1971 - Collected Poems
1973 - Two Citizens
1976 - Moments of the Italian Summer
1977 - To a Blossoming Pear Tree
Poems Published Posthumously
1982 - This Journey, The Temple at Nimes
1992 - Above the River - the Complete Poems, introduction by Donald Hall
2005 - Selected Poems, A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright
1983 - Collected Prose