NEH Funds Travisano’s Continued Writing on Elizabeth Bishop

April 1, 2010

Hartwick College Professor of English Thomas Travisano is a renowned scholar of the 20th century American poet Elizabeth Bishop. Having already published three books and countless articles on her work and life, Travisano will soon embark on a new critical and cultural biography of Bishop, thanks in part to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The NEH recently announced that Travisano was selected to receive funding along with just 286 humanities projects nationwide. The highly competitive process marks Travisano’s second Summer Stipend from the NEH (the first in 1988) and his third NEH grant overall, as he also received an NEH Fellowship for College Teachers in 1994-95.

“This NEH Grant is a wonderful recognition of Tom's exemplary scholarship” said Dr. Margaret L. Drugovich, Hartwick College President. “Hartwick students and literature enthusiasts worldwide know well the dedication and passion Tom brings to his work. His intellectual pursuits inside and outside the classroom are an inspiration to his students and colleagues.”

“NEH grants give scholars the tools they need to do research to expand the knowledge base in various fields of humanities and then provide public access to new knowledge and perspectives through exhibitions, reading-and-discussion programs, Web sites, and documentaries,” NEH Chairman Jim Leach said. “The result is a better-informed public.”

For Words in Air, Travisano sought out particularly engaged Hartwick sophomores to transcribe the letters, since this would give them time to learn and develop in their work. Working in tandem–with one student transcribing Lowell, the other Bishop–allowed them to become familiar with the often obscure or illegible handwriting of the authors, and to become familiar with their style and tone over consecutive years of work.

Travisano has explored Bishop’s work in Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1988), Midcentury Quartet: Bishop, Lowell, Jarrell, Berryman and the Making of a Postmodern Aesthetic (University Press of Virginia, 1999), and Words in Air: The Complete Letters of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, October, 2008). He is founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, and he has worked as conference director, co-director, advisor, or keynote speaker at events from Nova Scotia to Brazil and from Paris to Bishop’s birthplace in Worcester, MA.

“Bishop has emerged as one of the most important and widely discussed American poets of the 20th century,” Travisano explained. “But she published comparatively little in her lifetime, and the standard image of her as a writer and a person has been continuously revised in recent years. This is due in part to the intense critical activity her work has generated and in part to the ongoing posthumous publication of powerful and revealing poems and other writings that remained in manuscript at the time of her death.”

These recent publications, including Travisano’s own internationally acclaimed Words in Air, have greatly expanded the scholarly and cultural understanding of Bishop’s place as a major American and international poet. According to Travisano, “Bishop is now being widely read as a poet of audacious yet masterly skills and of considerable, if often latent, emotional power—and as a poet who was crucially engaged with such vital cultural and political issues as outsiderhood, gender, sexuality, national identity, social class, war, the environment, power relations, and family intimacy and conflict.”

The Summer Stipend will fund Travisano’s archival research, interviews with Bishop’s surviving contemporaries, and the composition of the introduction of his biography.

“My biography will establish Bishop as a poet of the border-grounds,” said Travisano, who also noted that Bishop lived for extended periods in France, Brazil and Canada as well as the United States. He added that late in life she made forays into the Brazil rainforest, journeyed down the Amazon River, and paid a visit to the Galapagos Islands. “My intent is to show her as a cosmopolitan or global poet who explored with verve, insight, and complexity issues of gender, sexuality, nationality, social class, and personal and cultural identity. I will endeavor to explain how this once underrated poet continues to seem more and more contemporary, and more and more representative—and therefore more popular and influential—as the years unfold.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at Summer Stipends support individuals pursuing advanced research that is of value to scholars and general audiences in the humanities.

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,480 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes a uniquely experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a unique January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for the world ahead. A Three Year Bachelor’s Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Christopher Lott
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