On Elizabeth Bishop

A compelling portrait of a beloved poet from one of today's most acclaimed novelists


Mar 22, 2015
4.5 x 7 in.
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In this book, novelist Colm Tóibín offers a deeply personal introduction to the work and life of one of his most important literary influences—the American poet Elizabeth Bishop. Ranging across her poetry, prose, letters, and biography, Tóibín creates a vivid picture of Bishop while also revealing how her work has helped shape his sensibility as a novelist and how her experiences of loss and exile resonate with his own. What emerges is a compelling double portrait that will intrigue readers interested in both Bishop and Tóibín.

For Tóibín, the secret of Bishop’s emotional power is in what she leaves unsaid. Exploring Bishop’s famous attention to detail, Tóibín describes how Bishop is able to convey great emotion indirectly, through precise descriptions of particular settings, objects, and events. He examines how Bishop’s attachment to the Nova Scotia of her childhood, despite her later life in Key West and Brazil, is related to her early loss of her parents—and how this connection finds echoes in Tóibín’s life as an Irish writer who has lived in Barcelona, New York, and elsewhere.

Beautifully written and skillfully blending biography, literary appreciation, and descriptions of Tóibín’s travels to Bishop’s Nova Scotia, Key West, and Brazil, On Elizabeth Bishop provides a fresh and memorable look at a beloved poet even as it gives us a window into the mind of one of today’s most acclaimed novelists.

Awards and Recognition

  • Colm Tóibín – Winner of the 2017 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation
  • Colm Tóibín, Inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame 2015
  • Nominee for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
  • One of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2015, selected by Blake Morrison
  • One of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2015, selected by Nicci Gerrard
  • One of The Guardian’s Readers’ Books of 2015
  • One of the Irish Times 2015 Readers’ Books of the Year
  • One of The New Yorker’s Twelve Books Related to Poems, 2015