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Self-Portrait with Others: A Celebration of Mary Jo Bang

Poet and Washington University Professor Mary Jo Bang has spent over thirty years writing, publishing, and teaching poetry. On November 30th, Special Collections will celebrate the inclusion of Bang’s papers in the Modern Literature Collection with “Mary Jo Bang: Self-Portrait with Others.” The celebration will feature selections of her archival material and artwork, and talks and readings by ex-students, friends, and colleagues. Bang will speak at the end and books will be for sale.

In Bang’s eighteen years at Washington University she has published extensively, won numerous awards, and mentored emerging poets who are now making their own marks on the literary world. Inaugurating her teaching career here, Bang gave a reading on September of 2000 from selection of her then in-progress manuscript, Louise in Love. Here she reads “The Dog Bark”:

A page from the Inferno illustrated by Henrik Drescher.

Bang’s most recent book is  A Doll For Throwing (2017)She recently described the book this way: “Taking Bauhaus images and artifacts as inspiration–especially photographs by Lucia Moholy and other women who studied and worked at the Bauhaus school–the poems address the difficulties of being a female artist, as well as the utopian ideals of that era, and of our own time, that sometimes can be seen dissolving against the backdrop of history.”

Bang is also known for her approach to translation as a creative act. In 2013 she published her most well-known translation to date–Dante’s Infernowhich includes a myriad of references to literary and popular culture figures, such as Nietzsche and The Rolling Stones. The book also includes numerous illustrations by esteemed artist, Henrik Drescher. Though some critics and purists raised objections, the translation has been celebrated as an intertextual and experimental success.

During this incredibly active period of writing and translating, Bang also provided mentorship to emerging poets in the MFA program. Justin Philip Reed (MFA 2015), recent winner of the National Book Award for his collection Indecency, fondly remembers his time under Bang’s guidance as a license to explore the depths of metaphor and take risks.

“Beyond a spirit for revision, I think I’ve learned most from Mary Jo the boundlessness of the quotidian and the interior. The feeling is never abstract; it is, at least, a room, equipped with surfaces to soil and shatter, furniture to tighten and pull cotton from, doors with removable hinges, and strangers I’ve forgotten were indeed invited. A mood is an estate of this. Mary Jo has instilled in me the wherewithal to roam the metaphors that I had previously thought were only two-dimensional at most, and to trust my instincts when I turn their corners and flip their lids. She has handed me the blank maps of imaginative wealth and let me loose.”

Mary Jo Bang’s life and career has been nothing short of prolific and influential. Please join Special Collections on November 30th, 2018 in celebrating the rich legacy she has left–and continues to leave–behind.