Finding-Aid for the Elizabeth Bishop Papers (MSS012)


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Table of Contents

Collection Outline

Descriptive Summary

Biographical Note

Scope and Contents Note

Restrictions

Administrative Information

Box and Folder Listing


Collection Outline

Series I. Correspondence

Series II. Clipping

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Descriptive Summary

CreatorBishop, Elizabeth, 1911-1979.
TitleElizabeth Bishop Papers
Quantity: 44 items
Identification: MSS012

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Biographical Note

Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979) was an American poet, short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and the National Book Award winner in 1970. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century.

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. 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. 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.

Bishop boarded at the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, 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, 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. The friendship between the two women endured until Moore's death in 1972. She was also 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. They also both influenced each other's poetry.

In 1949 to 1950, she was Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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. After Soares took her own life in 1967 Bishop spent more time in the US.

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.

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.

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.

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Scope and Contents Note

The collection consists primarily of letters and cards from Elizabeth Bishop to Anne Stevenson providing biographical information to be used in writing Elizabeth Bishop as part of Twayne's United States Authors Series. Bishop also discusses her work and comments on literary figures including Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, W.H.Auden, Ernest Hemingway, John Berryman, and many others. Included with the collection are one TLS from Marianne Moore to Stevenson discussing Bishop; letters from people at Vassar who knew Bishop as a student; and several TLs [carbon] from Stevenson to Bishop. A newspaper clipping from the New York Times concerning Bishop is included. Letters bulk 1963-1965. Letters originate from Brooklyn, N.Y., New York City, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Waterloo, Mass., Ann Arbor, Mich., Seattle, Wash., San Francisco, London, Lodsworth, Sussex, Rio de Janeiro, Samambaia, Petrópolis, and Ouro Preto, Brazil. 30TLsS, 1 TL, 4 TLs [carbon], 1 T postcard, 3 ALsS, 1 telegram, 1 newspaper clipping.

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Restrictions

Access Restrictions

Open.

Use Restrictions

Users of the collections must read and abide by the Rules for the use of manuscript collection materials.

Users of the collections who wish to use items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication (as defined in the form) must sign and submit to the Washington University Department of Special Collections a hard copy of the Notification of intent publish manuscript collection materials form.

All publication restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder.

Copyright to large portions of the collection held by Alice Methfessel

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Elizabeth Bishop Papers, Washington University in St. Louis

Source of Collection

Purchase. Accession 1429 and 808.

Processing Information

Processed by Washington University Department Special Collections Staff ca. 1990. EAD encoded finding-aid complete December, 2001

Accruals

Interfiled within collection or by accession at end of collection.

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Box and Folder Listing

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Box/folder
1/1-4

Series I. Correspondence, (78 pp. 42 items.)

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Box/folder
1/ 1
, 1956:
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, September 27. (TLS 1 p.)
Elizabeth Bishop to Tambimuttu, agreeing to submit poetry to Poetry London-New York if and when she wrote anything suitable. She expresses interest in the new journal, and says she particularly enjoyed "Miss Moore's review."
Accession 808.
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, 1958:
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, April 8. (TLS 1 p.)
Elizabeth Bishop to Mrs. Chalk, declining to write a review of Ruth Stephan's book, Singing Mountaineers. She explains her delay in replying to Mrs. Chalk's letter, and suggests that Dudley Fitts would be a possible reviewer for the book since he is familiar with Latin American literature and she is sure he would do a good review.
Accession 808.
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, 1963:
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, January 8. (TLS 1 p.)
Marianne Moore to Anne Stevenson Many letters in the collection are addressed to Anne Elvin, married name of Anne Stevenson.
Suggesting that Stevenson contact Elizabeth Bishop concerning the Twayne Book. Comments on the Bishop she knows: "She seems happy. Is very fond of animals -..."; and on herself: "I am a rebel, Mrs. Elvin, refusing to do any work for anyone; rough and ready in speech -".
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, January 19. (ALS 1 p.)
Helen E. Sandison to Stevenson discussing her memories of Bishop at Vassar where she was her faculty advisor.
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, January 21. (TLS 1 p.)
Julia G. Bacon to Stevenson informing her of facts concerning Bishop's record at Vassar.
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, January 22. (TLS 1 p.)
Elizabeth Bishop to Stevenson acknowledging her request for information and agreeing to help if she can.
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, March 18. (TLS 2pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson giving biographical information about her places of residence; discussing her fondness for music and painting; and discussing herself and Marianne Moore: "...I am rather weary of always being compared to, or coupled with, Marianne..."
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, March 20. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson outlining where and when poems were written; commenting on how poems come to her: "I use dream material whenever I am lucky enough to have any..."; mentioning her friendships with artists: Lowell, Edmund Wilson, Alexander Calder, Randall Jarrell.
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, March 28. (TL [carbon] 2 pp.)
Stevenson to Bishop asking questions about Bishop's work and answering questions about herself.
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, August 24. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson commenting on her unpleasant stay in Washington, D.C., as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, 1949-50.
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, August 26. (TLS 1 p.)
Carl D. Brandt [literary agent] to Stevenson. A note accompanying copies of Bishop's new poems.
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, October 2. (TLS 3 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson giving biographical information. Bishop mentions that "the Brazil book" is much edited; comments on certain of her poems and stories; outlines her early publishing history mentioning her association with Mary McCarthy; mentions the influence on her of Pablo Neruda and John Dewey - his personality, not his writing.
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, October 28. (TL[carbon] 4 pp.)
Stevenson to Bishop. Primarily an outline for and discussion of her book, Elizabeth Bishop.
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, December 30. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson mentioning personal matters, particularly her friendship with Lota De Macedo Soares.
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Box/folder
1/2
, 1964:
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, January 8. (TLS 7 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson including biographical data relating to the insanity of her mother, the house she and Lota have built, her dissatisfaction with the Brazil book. She discusses her views on translation; mentions poets she admires: Pasternak, Rimbaud, Esenin, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickenson; discusses Neruda and his work at length. She discusses some of her attitudes: "In fact I think snobbery governs a great deal of my taste." Discusses her friends, her views on criticism, her love of art. Discusses her admiration for Hemingway and Lawrence: "I admire both Hemingway & Lawrence - along with others - for living in the real world and knowing how to do things." Mentions her admiration for Chekov as an artist and a person. Mentions Darwin, Herbert and Baudelaire. Discusses her lack of formal religion. Discusses the poetics of William Carlos Williams, Pound, Wallace Stevens, and E.E.Cummings.
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, January 29. (TL[carbon] 2 pp.)
Stevenson to Bishop commenting on Bishop's work and on the book in progress.
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, February 16. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson discussing Issac Babel and commenting critically on Babel, Lowell, Jarrell, Frost, Moore, Shapiro, Winters, and Berryman. "...the problem is how to be justly but impersonally bitter, isn't it -".
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, March 6. (TL[carbon] 2 pp.)
Stevenson to Bishop asking questions of fact about Bishop's background and commenting on the book and what it will contain.
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, [nd, March(?)]. (TL 7 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson. Primarily biographical data, mentioning when and where she met people; discussing her "social Terror"; her personal views on many mostly non-literary topics.
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, March 22. (TLS 1 p.)
Barbara Swain to Stevenson relating what she remembers about Bishop at Vassar.
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, March 23. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson in which Bishop discusses her reading of Darwin; her feelings about children and pets; and the conditions (physical and political) in Brazil.
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, April 8. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson describing the Revolution of April 1, 1964.
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, May 5. (TLS 4 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson. The letter is a discussion of her mother's insanity, private matters, and the Revolution.
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, June 30. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson suggesting an itinerary for a visit to London.
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, July 8. (Tpostcard 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson. A "thank you" note following Bishop's visit to Cambridge.
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, July 10. (ALS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson describing her visit in Sussex with one of Aiken's daught3ers.
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, October 27. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson in which she discusses several poets including Stevens, Berryman, Lowell, Roethke, Anne Sexton, Seidel, Cummings, and Moore.
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, November 14. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson comparing herself to Andrew Wyeth.
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, December 5. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson in which she comments on Ruskin and Hopkins and Wyeth and Randall Jarrell on her work.
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Box/folder
1/3
, 1965:
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, February 7. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson concerning personal matters, problems with Houghton-Mifflin over copyrights, her feelings on Chinese, and writing journalism.
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, February 14. (Telegram 1 p.)
George Abbott to Stevenson. An apology for his failure to write. Apparently unrelated to the Bishop book.
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, February 18. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson in which she mentions a re-reading of T.S.Eliot's "What is Minor Poetry"; Wittgenstein and I.A. Richards; comments on a study away from home: "It's the only way to concentrate - particularly for our distractable and too-obliging sex -".
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, April 10. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson congratulating her on the book, Elizabeth Bishop.
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, May 20. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson correcting factual errors in the book. Mentions her reading of Wittgenstein. Includes a chronology of the events in her life.
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Box/folder
, August 15. (TLS 4 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson correcting biographical inaccuracies in the book. Mentions Hans Christian Anderson: "...one of my favorite writers;" discusses W.H.Auden and Sylvia Plath.
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Box/folder
, Sept. 18. (Tpost card S 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson discussing the book, Elizabeth Bishop.
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Box/folder
, November 14. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson commenting on Stevenson's poems.
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Box/folder
, [nd, Fall 1965?]. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson. A note telling of her address.
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Box/folder
1/4
, 1966:
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, April 11. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson discussing Bishop's teaching experience in Seattle; her most recent book (Questions of Travel); W.H.Auden; and her travel plans.
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, November 11. (ALS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson mentioning Joseph Summers, a friend, who is to spend a year teaching at Oxford.
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, December 18. (TLS 1 p.)
Bishop to Stevenson discussing personal matters, primarily the hospitalization of her friend Lota De Macedo Soares.
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Box/folder
1/5
, 1969: April 3. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson discussing the changes in her life since the death of Lota De Macedo Soares.
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Box/folder
, 1970: February 15. (TLS 2 pp.)
Bishop to Stevenson discussing her house in Brazil and other personal matters; mentions a current difficulty in getting down to work.

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Box/folder
1/6

Series II. Clipping, (1 item)

from the New York Times, September 30, 1964, about Bishop.

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