Staging Bishop’s Letters

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Bishop, one of the finest poets of the twentieth century. One of my favorite things about her is how she wandered up and down the Western Hemisphere throughout her life: born in Massachussetts and raised largely in Nova Scotia, she traveled widely in Europe, North Africa, and South America, settling in Brazil, the Florida Keys, and ultimately, Boston, where she passed away in 1979. (Read more of Bishop’s biography at the Academy of American Poet’s website.)

I think poetry is too often associated with major urban centers, and I tend to get excited about writers who have spent their lives and energies elsewhere, unmoored from the major centers of publication. That’s not to say that Bishop was a hermit or that she rejected the allure of big city literary culture. To the contrary, although she did not publish widely, she was a frequent contributor to The New Yorker in her day.

Editor and poet Joelle Biele will soon publish, Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence. Now Biele is giving the letters another look and adapting them for performance as a play. I’m looking forward to reading the part of Bishop at an upcoming workshop reading in New York. If you’re a Bishop fan, I hope you’ll join us to learn more about this phase of her career and contribute to the discussion about adapting this material for the stage.

“Staging Elizabeth Bishop’s Letters”
Tuesday, October 5, 6:30pm
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
The CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

Following the performance, moderator Leah Souffrant will invite audience members to evaluate the translation of the epistolary to the performed, letter writing as performance, and the relationships between writers, editors, and their audience.


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