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Cover for Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker

Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker

The Complete Correspondence

Elizabeth Bishop, Joelle Biele (Editor)


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I sort of see you surrounded with fine-tooth combs, sandpaper, nail files, pots of varnish, etc.—with heaps of used commas and semicolons handy, and little useless phrases taken out of their contexts and dying all over the floor," Elizabeth Bishop said upon learning a friend landed a job at The New Yorker in the early 1950s. From 1933 until her death in 1979, Bishop published the vast majority of her poems in the magazine's pages. During those forty years, hundreds of letters passed between Bishop and her editors, Charles Pearce, Katharine White, and Howard Moss. In these letters Bishop discussed the ideas and inspiration for her poems and shared news about her travels, while her editors offered support, commentary, and friendship. Their correspondence provides an unparalleled look into Bishop's writing process, the relationship between a poet and her editors, the internal workings of The New Yorker, and the process of publishing a poem, giving us a rare glimpse into the artistic development of one of the twentieth century's greatest poets.

Praise For Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence

“[Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker] offers a glimpse into Bishop's life (she lived in Brazil for much of this period), writing process and relationship with her editors, as well as a look into the internal workings of that fabled publication in which so many of her poems were published … As with the best correspondence, it is like eavesdropping on a lively conversation already in progress.” —The Globe and Mail

Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker collects nearly forty years of letters between Bishop and the magazine, largely a correspondence with two of Bishop's formidable editors, Katherine White and Howard Moss. It was more than a partnership. In letters to Moss and White over the years, her valedictions warmed from ‘Sincerely' to ‘Affectionately' to ‘Love' … This collection is most interesting as a record of how Bishop and her editors mulled over questions of style, clarity, and accuracy--and as a keyhole through The New Yorker's legendary doors. Sometimes Bishop's submissions provoked charmingly cordial editorial notes. Her story ‘In the Village' mentions a child's fascination with ‘steaming cow flops'; as White put it, ‘the loving description of manure seems to go too far.'” —Jeremy Axelrod, Columbia Journalism Review

“True, you're reading a lot of the nuts and bolts of Bishop's relationship with her New Yorker editors [Katherine] White and then Howard Moss--the work accepted and rejected, checks sent, detailed changes. You're also following a narrative line about Bishop the writer and the changing literary climate of the New Yorker. Fascinating.” —Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker, ably introduced by the poet Joelle Biele, charts her relationship with the first publisher of most of her best poems … Although much of this correspondence is about punctuation … postal delays or illness … there is also regular disagreement about how "coarse she is allowed to be in [The New Yorker's] genteel pages. She broke off contact with the magazine in 1961, stung perhaps by its rejection of poems such as her discreetly lesbian love poem The Shampoo, a rejection that has come to seem more significant because Bishop subsequently avoided publishing poems that dealt explicitly with sexuality. [The collection] shed[s] light on the arc of Bishop's development as a poet, and implicitly grants us a sense of the limits that hemmed in gay writers in the middle of the last century.” —John McAuliffe, The Irish Times

“Bishop's long and affectionate relationship with the magazine is thoroughly documented in Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence … Poets and NewYorker aficionados will find it irresistible … Reading this volume, noting the meticulous attention brought to each poem and story, one realizes how skillfully the editors helped focus and clarify every detail of the text … as these letters so copiously prove, the editors never tried to change the author's intentions, even in the smallest matters, only to realize them. For a woman without a fixed home or even country, The New Yorker provided a sense of stability and continuity. It adopted her early and gave the consistent support that allowed her to develop her idiosyncratic talents into genius.” —Dana Gioia, The Wall Street Journal

“The letters of … Elizabeth Bishop, written to The New Yorker where she published a great deal of her work, offers an exhilarating glimpse into the poet's thinking about her own work … and the background for much its creation, which views she shared with her editors.” —Michael Coffey, Publishers Weekly

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374281380, 496pp.

Publication Date: February 1, 2011

About the Author

The modern American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) received the Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for her collection Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring, the National Book Award for The Complete Poems (1969), the National Book Critics' Circle Award in 1976, and many other distinctions and accolades for her work. She was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. She traveled widely as an adult, living for years in France and then Brazil, before returning to the United States.