Elizabeth Bishop, an only child, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her father, a successful builder, died when she was eight months old, Bishop’s mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized in 1916. (Bishop wrote about the time of her mother's struggles in her short story "In The Village.")
Effectively orphaned during her very early childhood, she lived with her grandparents on a farm in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a period she also referenced in her writing. This was also where she developed into a first-class fisherwoman. Bishop's mother remained in an asylum until her death in 1934, and the two were never reunited. Later in childhood, Bishop's paternal family gained custody, and she was removed from the care of her grandparents and moved in with her father's wealthier family in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, Bishop was unhappy in Worcester, and her separation from her grandparents made her lonely. While she was living in Worcester, she developed chronic asthma, from which she suffered for the rest of her life. Her time in Worcester is briefly chronicled in her poem "In The Waiting Room." In 1918 her grandparents, realizing that she was unhappy living with them, sent Bishop to live with her mother's oldest sister, Maud Boomer Shepherdson, and her husband George. The Bishops paid Maud to house and educate their granddaughter. The Shepherdsons lived in a tenement in an impoverished Revere, Massachusetts neighborhood populated mostly by Irish and Italian immigrants. The family later moved to better circumstances in Cliftondale, Massachusetts. It was Bishop's aunt who introduced her to the works of Victorian poets, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Crane and Bishop, 1937, Crane Papers, Yale
Louise Crane was a prominent American philanthropist. Crane was a friend to some of New York’s leading literary figures, including Tennessee Williams and Marianne Moore. Crane met Elizabeth Bishop while classmates together at Vassar in 1930. The pair traveled extensively in Europe and bought a house together in 1937 in Key West, Florida. While Bishop lived in Key West, Crane occasionally returned to New York. Louise Crane and her mother were sponsors of Virgil Thomson's work.
Lota de Macedo Soares was a Brazilian aesthete who conceived and constructed the Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro. She was born in Paris, a member of a prominent political family in Rio de Janeiro state. Lota, as she was known, maintained a lesbian relationship with the American poet Elizabeth Bishop from 1951 to 1967. In 1967 Lota committed suicide. Reaching for the Moon (2013) (original title: "Flores Raras"), directed by Bruno Barreto, tells the tragic love affair between them.
Bishop was very ill as a child and as a result received very little formal schooling. She attended Saugus High School for her freshman year of high school. She was accepted to the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts for her sophomore year, but was behind on her immunizations and not allowed to attend. She instead spent the year at the North Shore Country Day School in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Bishop then boarded at the Walnut Hill School, where she studied music. At the school her first poems were published by her friend Frani Blough in a student magazine. Then she entered Vassar College in the fall of 1929, shortly before the stock market crash, planning to be a composer. She gave up music because of a terror of performance and switched to English where she took courses including 16th and 17th century literature and the novel. Bishop published her work in her senior year in The Magazine (based in California) and 1933, she co-founded Con Spirito, a rebel literary magazine at Vassar, with writer Mary McCarthy (one year her senior), Margaret Miller, and the sisters Eunice and Eleanor Clark. Bishop graduated in 1934.
Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore to whom she was introduced by a librarian at Vassar in 1934. Moore took a keen interest in Bishop’s work, and at one point Moore dissuaded Bishop from attending Cornell Medical School, in which the poet had briefly enrolled herself after moving to New York City following her Vassar graduation. It was four years before Bishop addressed "Dear Miss Moore" as "Dear Marianne," and only then at the elder poet’s invitation. The friendship between the two women, memorialized by an extensive correspondence (see One Art), endured until Moore's death in 1972. Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" (1955) contains allusions on several levels to Moore's 1924 poem "A Grave."
She was introduced to Robert Lowell by Randall Jarrell in 1947 and they became great friends, mostly through their written correspondence, until Lowell's death in 1977. After his death, she wrote, "our friendship, [which was] often kept alive through years of separation only by letters, remained constant and affectionate, and I shall always be deeply grateful for it". They also both influenced each other's poetry. Lowell cited Bishop's influence on his poem "Skunk Hour" which he said, "[was] modeled on Miss Bishop's 'The Armadillo.'" Also, his poem "The Scream" is "derived from...Bishop's story In the Village." "North Haven," one of the last poems she published during her lifetime, was written in memory of Lowell in 1978.
Bishop had an independent income in early adulthood as a result of an inheritance from her deceased father that did not run out until the end of her life. With this inheritance, Bishop was able to travel widely without worrying about employment and lived in many cities and countries which are described in her poems. She lived in France for several years in the mid-1930s with a friend she knew at Vassar, Louise Crane, who was a paper-manufacturing heiress. In 1938, Bishop purchased a house with Crane at 624 White Street in Key West, Florida. While living there Bishop made the acquaintance of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, who had divorced Ernest Hemingway in 1940.
From 1949 to 1950, she was the Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress, and lived at Bertha Looker's Boardinghouse, 1312 30th Street Northwest, Washington, D.C., in Georgetown. In 1946, Marianne Moore suggested Bishop for the Houghton Mifflin Prize for poetry which Bishop won. Her first book, North & South, was published in 1,000 copies. The book prompted the literary critic Randall Jarrell to write that “all her poems have written underneath, 'I have seen it,'" referring to Bishop's talent for vivid description.
Upon receiving a substantial $2,500 traveling fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951, Bishop set off to circumnavigate South America by boat. Arriving in Santos, Brazil in November of that year, Bishop expected to stay two weeks but stayed fifteen years. She lived in Pétropolis with architect Lota de Macedo Soares, descended from a prominent and notable political family. While living in Brazil, Bishop won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, for the collection Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring, which combined her first two books. Although Bishop was not forthcoming about details of her romance with Soares, much of their relationship was documented in Bishop's extensive correspondence with Samuel Ashley Brown. However, in its later years, the relationship deteriorated, becoming volatile and tempestuous, marked by bouts of depression, tantrums and alcoholism.
It was during her time in Brazil that Elizabeth Bishop became increasingly interested in the languages and literatures of Latin America. She was influenced by South and Central American poets, including the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, as well as the Brazilian poets João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade and translated their work into English. Regarding de Andrade, she said, "I didn't know him at all. He's supposed to be very shy. I'm supposed to be very shy. We've met once — on the sidewalk at night. We had just come out of the same restaurant, and he kissed my hand politely when we were introduced." After Soares took her own life in 1967 Bishop spent more time in the US.
Bishop did not see herself as a "lesbian poet" or as a "female poet." Although she still considered herself to be "a strong feminist," she only wanted to be judged based on the quality of her writing and not on her gender or sexual orientation. Also, where some of her notable contemporaries like Robert Lowell and John Berryman made the intimate, often sordid details of their personal lives an important part of their poetry, Bishop avoided this practice altogether. For instance, like Berryman, Bishop struggled with alcoholism and depression throughout her adult life; but Bishop never wrote about this struggle (whereas Berryman made his alcoholism and depression a focal point in his dream song poems).
In contrast to this confessional style involving large amounts of self-exposure, Bishop's style of writing, though it sometimes involved sparse details from her personal life, was known for its highly detailed and objective, distant point of view and for its reticence on the sordid subject matter that obsessed her contemporaries. In contrast to a poet like Lowell, when Bishop wrote about details and people from her own life (as she did in her story about her childhood and her mentally unstable mother in "In the Village"), she always used discretion.
Although she was generally supportive of the "confessional" style of her friend, Robert Lowell, she drew the line at Lowell's highly controversial book The Dolphin (1973), in which he used and altered private letters from his ex-wife, Elizabeth Hardwick (whom he'd recently divorced after 23 years of marriage), as material for his poems. In a letter to Lowell, dated March 21, 1972, Bishop strongly urged him against publishing the book, writing, "One can use one's life as material [for poems]--one does anyway—but these letters—aren't you violating a trust? IF you were given permission—IF you hadn't changed them. . .etc. But art just isn't worth that much."
In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, Bishop won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as two Guggenheim Fellowships and an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. In 1976, she became the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and remains the only American to be awarded that prize.
Bishop lectured in higher education for a number of years starting in the 1970s when her inheritance began to run out. For a short time she taught at the University of Washington, before teaching at Harvard University for seven years. She often spent her summers in her summer house in the island community of North Haven, Maine. She taught at New York University, before finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She commented "I don’t think I believe in writing courses at all… It’s true, children sometimes write wonderful things, paint wonderful pictures, but I think they should be discouraged."
In 1971 Bishop began a relationship with Alice Methfessel. Never a prolific writer, Bishop noted that she would begin many projects and leave them unfinished. She published her last book in 1976, Geography III. Three years later, she died of a cerebral aneurysm in her apartment at Lewis Wharf, Boston. She is buried in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts. Alice Methfessel was her literary executor. After her death, the Elizabeth Bishop House, an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia, was dedicated to her memory.
Burial: Hope Cemetery, Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts, USA
Maria Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares (1910 – September 25, 1967) was a Brazilian aesthete who conceived and constructed the Flamengo Park in Rio de Janeiro. She was born in Paris, a member of a prominent political family in Rio de Janeiro state.
Lota, as she was known, maintained a lesbian relationship with the American poet Elizabeth Bishop from 1951 to 1967.
Upon receiving a substantial $2,500 traveling fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951, Elizabeth Bishop set off to circumnavigate South America by boat. Arriving in Santos, Brazil in November of that year, Bishop expected to stay two weeks but stayed fifteen years. She lived in Pétropolis with architect Lota de Macedo Soares, descended from a prominent and notable political family. While living in Brazil, Bishop won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, for the collection Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring, which combined her first two books. Although Bishop was not forthcoming about details of her romance with Soares, much of their relationship was documented in Bishop's extensive correspondence with Samuel Ashley Brown. However, in its later years, the relationship deteriorated, becoming volatile and tempestuous, marked by bouts of depression, tantrums and alcoholism.
In 1967, Soares followed Bishop back to the United States, having recovered from an ailment with extensive hospitalization. The same day she arrived in New York, 19 September 1967, Soares took effective steps to commit suicide by overdosing on tranquilizers, and died several days later.
Reaching for the Moon (2013) (original title: "Flores Raras"), directed by Bruno Barreto, tells the tragic love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares.
Louise Crane (November 11, 1913 – October 20, 1997), a prominent American philanthropist. Crane was a friend to some of New York’s leading literary figures, including Tennessee Williams and Marianne Moore.
Crane's father was Winthrop Murray Crane, an American millionaire and former governor of Massachusetts. Her mother was MoMA co-founder Josephine Porter Boardman. Louise smoothly moved into the role of patron of the arts. She was a prominent supporter of jazz and orchestral music, initiating a series of "coffee concerts" at MoMA and commissioning a vocal and orchestral work by Lukas Foss. She even worked representing musicians, including Mary Lou Williams.
Crane met Elizabeth Bishop while classmates together at Vassar in 1930. The pair traveled extensively in Europe and bought a house together in 1937 in Key West, Florida. While Bishop lived in Key West, Crane occasionally returned to New York. Crane developed a passionate interest with Billie Holiday in 1941.
Crane published Ibérica, a Spanish language review, with her companion, Victoria Kent, from 1954 to 1974. Ibérica featured news for Spanish people exiled in the United States. Kent was a prominent member of the Spanish Republican party, opposed to Franco. Many prominent writers, including Salvador Madariaga, contributed to Ibérica. Louise Crane and her mother were sponsors of Virgil Thomson's opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, among other works.
Victoria Kent was a Spanish lawyer and republican politician. Victoria Kent was Louise Crane's companion in later years. Louise Crane was a prominent American philanthropist. Crane was a friend to some of New York’s leading literary figures, including Tennessee Williams and Marianne Moore. Crane and Kent published Ibérica, a Spanish language anti-Franco magazine. Following Josephine Boardman Crane's death, Kent and Crane lived together in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Redding, Connecticut.
Crane was the executor of Marianne Moore's estate after her death in 1972.
Victoria Kent Siano (March 3, 1898 - September 22, 1987) was a Spanish lawyer and republican politician. Victoria Kent was Louise Crane's companion in later years. Louise Crane (1913–1997) was a prominent American philanthropist. Crane was a friend to some of New York’s leading literary figures, including Tennessee Williams and Marianne Moore. Crane and Kent published Ibérica, a Spanish language anti-Franco magazine from 1954 to 1974. Following Josephine Boardman Crane's death, Kent and Crane lived together in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Redding, Connecticut. On The Berkshire Eagle, 7 April 1952, you can read: "Miss Louise Crane of New York City visited her brother, Stephen Crane of the West Sheffield road, over the week end. Accompanying her was Miss Victoria Kent, also of New York City."
Born in Málaga, she was affiliated to the Radical Socialist Republican Party and came to fame in 1930 for defending - at a court martial - Álvaro de Albornoz, who would shortly afterwards go on to become minister of justice and later the future president of the Republican government in exile (1947 to 1949 and 1949 to 1951). She became a member of the first Parliament of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. That same year, the President of the Republic, Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, appointed her Director General of Prisons, a post she held until 1934, and she actively continued the reforms in the prison service that had been started by Concepción Arenal.
Kent was against giving women the right to vote immediately, arguing that, as Spanish women lacked at that moment social and political education enough to vote responsibly, they would be very much influenced by the Catholic priests, damaging left wing parties. She had a controversy about this subject with another feminist in the parliament, Clara Campoamor. This caused her certain unpopularity and, when women were given right to vote, she lost her seat – as she had predicted – to the conservative majority in 1933.
After the Spanish Civil War, Kent went into exile. In New York she published the Ibérica review from 1954 to 1974, which featured news for Spanish people exiled in the United States. She died in New York in 1987.
Colleges in Fuenlabrada, Marbella, Torrejón de Ardoz (Instituto de Educación Secundaria Victoria Kent), and a railway station in her home town of Málaga, have been named after her.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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