Thomas Travisano

Thomas Travisano

Fellow: Awarded 2013
Field of Study: Biography

Competition: US & Canada

Hartwick College

Thomas Travisano’s current project, a new critical and cultural biography of Elizabeth Bishop, is a natural outgrowth of his ongoing curiosity about, and critical and scholarly engagement with, the writing, life, and worlds of the mid-twentieth-century American poet Elizabeth Bishop. His scholarly career has featured the publication of eight books and more than twenty-five articles, of which perhaps the best known is his edition Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Travisano’s early doctoral thesis on Bishop appeared in book form in 1988 as Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development. This was the first critical monograph devoted to Bishop’s entire career.

The founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, Travisano has organized or participated in countless conferences and symposia on Bishop in locales ranging from her native Worcester, Massachusetts, and her alma mater, Vassar College, to Boston, New York, Nova Scotia, Key West, London, Paris, Lyon, San Francisco, Mexico, and Brazil. He has also published in periodicals a series of essays that introduced previously unknown poem and prose pieces by Bishop—writings ranging from high-school experiments in many genres to poems left in draft at her death. These publications help to spark the widespread interest in Bishop’s previously unpublished or uncollected writings that continues to this day.

By 1994, it was clear that the world had witnessed the making of a major poet. Once considered a talented but minor figure, Bishop had established herself, beyond doubt, as one of the most important and influential poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. Travisano analyzed the reasons for this dramatic ascent in perhaps his most frequently cited essay, “The Elizabeth Bishop Phenomenon,” which appeared in periodical form in 1994 and was reprinted in the 1995 essay collection Gendered Modernisms: American Women Poets and Their Readers, which he co-edited with Margaret Dickie. His extensive 1999 critical study, Midcentury Quartet: Bishop, Lowell, Jarrell, Berryman and the Making of a Postmodern Aesthetic, explores the close artistic relationship between Bishop and three of her most important male poetic peers, and it argues against the prevailing notion that insists on an opposition between so-called “confessional poets” such as Lowell and Berryman and more “reticent” poets such as Bishop. Travisano argues, to the contrary, that each poet’s work should be understood as “self-exploratory.” Travisano is also the co-editor of the three-volume New Anthology of American Poetry, which brings together the best of American poetry from its beginnings to the present day and makes the case for a comprehensive reconsideration of the American poetic canon.

Travisano’s work on Midcentury Quartet led directly to the creation of the internationally acclaimed Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, which he completed with Guggenheim Fellow Saskia Hamilton in 2008. Travisano aims, in his new biography, to integrate the array of recently emerging critical, cultural, and biographical insights that have revolutionized our understanding of Bishop’s work with original research into newly discovered documentary evidence. This integrated reading of a subtle and elusive yet curiously intimate poet will offer fresh and surprising avenues into Bishop’s life and worlds.

Travisano is Professor of English at Hartwick College, where he has taught since 1982. He has twice served as Hartwick’s Wandersee Scholar in residence, has twice held the Cora A. Babcock Chair in English, and is a winner of Hartwick’s Teacher-Scholar Award.

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