Carolyn D. Wright

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Carolyn D. Wright
Carolyn Doris Wright

(1949-01-06)January 6, 1949
DiedJanuary 12, 2016(2016-01-12) (aged 67)
Alma materUniversity of Memphis, University of Arkansas
Occupation(s)Poet, professor
Known forMacArthur Fellowship

Carolyn D. Wright (January 6, 1949 – January 12, 2016) was an American poet.[1] She was a MacArthur Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island.


C. D. Wright was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas, to a chancery judge and a court reporter. She earned a BA in French from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in 1971 and briefly attended law school before leaving to pursue an MFA from the University of Arkansas, which she received in 1976. Her poetry thesis was titled Alla Breve Loving.

In 1977, the publishing company founded by Frank Stanford, Lost Roads Publishers, published Wright's first collection, Room Rented by A Single Woman. After Stanford died in 1978, Wright took over Lost Roads, continuing its mission of publishing new poets and starting the practice of publishing translations. In 1979, she moved to San Francisco, where she met poet Forrest Gander. Wright and Gander married in 1983 and had a son, Brecht. The husband and wife were co-editors at Lost Roads until 2005.[2]

In 1981, Wright and Gander moved to Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico, where she completed her third book of poems, Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues. In 1983, they moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where she began teaching at Brown University as the Israel J. Kapstein Professor of English.[3] Over the next 30 years, Wright won many major American literary prizes (including fellowships from the Lila Acheson Wallace, Guggenheim, Lannan, and MacArthur Foundations) while publishing one of the most eclectic bodies of poetic work of her generation. The cyclical erotic and tormented fragments of Just Whistle are as distinct from the compressed, sensual narratives of Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues as from the lyrical southern paeans of Further Adventures with You. Perhaps her most original and internationally influential publications are the book-length works Deepstep Come Shining, One Big Self, and One With Others. Each developed, in new directions, Wright's formally innovative and fundamentally ethical meditations on the South, on race relations, on incarceration, and on the lives of the unsung. Together, those books helped to define and extend the possibilities for documentary poetics in the twenty-first century. In 2013, Wright was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.[4] Stephanie Burt has described Wright as an Elliptical Poet,[5] but Burt did not use that description in an essay she published as a tribute to Wright just after Wright's death.[6] As Joel Brouwer has said, she "belongs to a school of exactly one."[7]

C.D. Wright died on January 12, 2016, six days after her 67th birthday.[8] Her brother, Warren Wright, reported that she "died peacefully in her sleep of thrombosis, a clot, after an overly long flight from Chile." At the time of her death, she was living in Barrington, Rhode Island.[9]


Wright's poetry is rooted in a sense of place and time and often employs distinct voices in dialogue, particularly those of the American South. Her work is formally inventive and often documentary in spirit, in the sense that it honors those whose stories or voices might be lost, were it not for her own writing. Her diction mixes high and low to surprising effect, and her range of reference is both broad and deep, including phrases from other languages, allusions to other poems, and pieces of conversation. Her books include precisely distilled lyrics such as those collected in Tremble as well as book-length poems beginning with Just Whistle, her first collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster.[10]

In a 2001 interview with Kent Johnson, Wright said,

As to my own aesthetic associations—affiliations, sympathies—I have never belonged to a notable element of writers who identified with one another partly because I come from Arkansas, specifically that part of Arkansas known for its resistance-to-joining, a non-urban environment where readily identifiable groups and sub-groups are less likely to form.

In the same interview, she states,

The theoretically-driven San Francisco poets who were in cahoots with poets in New York and conversant with European vanguard movements—they provided me with a need to become critically aware of my back-home ways; sharpened me to a degree. I'm grateful for the exposure, the education. I am indebted to particular poets' work from that point in time, but I am not an intellectual in the sense that qualifies or requires me to belong to a manifestoed-group. And of course one comes to take some pride in one's own outsider status.[11]

Wright published literary maps of both Rhode Island and Arkansas.[12] Wright's later work includes String Light; Deepstep Come Shining, a book-length poem; and One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, another collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster. One Big Self: An Investigation contains just the poems. Her poems are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and many other anthologies. One With Others mixes investigative journalism, history and poetry to explore homegrown civil rights incidents and the critical role her mentor, a brilliant and difficult woman, played in a little-known 1969 March Against Fear in her native Arkansas.[13] Shortly after Wright's death in January 2016, Copper Canyon Press published The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All, a book of prosimetric essays, and ShallCross, a book of both short- and long-form poems.


John Reed, David Biespiel and Wright at the after party for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, March 2012


This list of works has been taken mostly from C. D. Wright's entry at the Academy of American Poets web page titled "C. D. Wright".

  • 1977: Room Rented By A Single Woman (Lost Roads)
  • 1979: Terrorism (Lost Roads)
  • 1981: Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues (State University of New York Press)
  • 1986: Further Adventures with You (Carnegie Mellon University Press)
  • 1991: String Light (University of Georgia Press)
  • 1993: Just Whistle: A Valentine (Kelsey Street Press) - with photographs by Deborah Luster
  • 1996: Tremble (Ecco)
  • 1998: Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press)
  • 2002: Steal Away: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press) [shortlisted for the 2003 International Griffin Poetry Prize]
  • 2003: One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Twin Palms) – with photographs by Deborah Luster
  • 2005: Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press)
  • 2007: One Big Self: An Investigation (Copper Canyon Press)
  • 2008: Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press) [winner of the 2009 International Griffin Poetry Prize]
  • 2009: 40 Watts (Octopus Books)
  • 2010: One With Others [[a little book of her days]] (Copper Canyon Press)
  • 2011: Jean Valentine Abridged: Writing a Word; Changing It (Albion Press)
  • 2012: The Other Hand (Horse Less Press)
  • 2016: The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All (Copper Canyon Press) – essays
  • 2016: ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press)
  • 2019: Casting Deep Shade: an Amble (Copper Canyon Press)


  1. ^ "C.D. Wright Interview with Kent Johnson for Jacket". Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  2. ^ Fox, Margalit (January 16, 2016). "C. D. Wright, Poet of Ozarks and Beyond, Dies at 67". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  3. ^ "C. D. Wright (1949–2016) - Encyclopedia of Arkansas".
  4. ^ "Academy of American Poets". Archived from the original on May 3, 2013. Retrieved May 7, 2012.
  5. ^ "C.D. Wright Interview with Kent Johnson for Jacket". Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  6. ^ Los Angeles Times (January 20, 2016). "Poet C.D. Wright was 'one of the great ones'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  7. ^ "Counting the Dead". The New York Times. June 22, 2008.
  8. ^ "C. D. Wright, January 6, 1949–January 12, 2016".
  9. ^ "C.D. Wright, ex-R.I. state poet and MacArthur 'genius grant' winner, dies at 67". The Providence Journal. January 14, 2016. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  10. ^ "C.D. Wright". Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  11. ^ Johnson, Kent. “Looking for ‘one untranslatable song’: C.D. Wright on poetics, collaboration, American prisoners, and Frank Stanford.” Jacket 15 (December 2001)
  12. ^ "C.D. Wright wins high honor: Canada's Griffin Poetry Prize | Today at Brown". June 4, 2009. Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  13. ^ Chiasson, Dan. "Southern Comfort," The New Yorker, 3 Jan. 2011. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018. The woman's name was Margaret Kaelin McHugh, whom Wright called "V".
  14. ^ "C. D. Wright - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation". Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011.
  15. ^ "C.D. Wright: 1989 Winner in Poetry," Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018.
  16. ^ "C.D. Wright," under "State Poets > Rhode Island," Library of Congress, 23 Feb, 2018. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018.
  17. ^ "C.D. Wright, Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018. Includes bio and artist's statement dated 2000.
  18. ^ "C. D. Wright," John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2018. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018.
  19. ^ "Robert Creeley Foundation » Award – Robert Creeley Award". Archived from the original on August 3, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  20. ^ "C.D. Wright". The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry. Retrieved August 10, 2018. Includes a brief video of Wright reading an excerpt.
  21. ^ "C.D. Wright, One with Others - 2010 National Book Award Poetry Finalist, The National Book Foundation". Archived from the original on September 3, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011. List of 2010 winners and finalists
  22. ^ "2010 Awards, Poetry Winner Archived October 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists," National Book Critics Circle, 2018. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018.
  23. ^ "Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize," Academy of American Poets, 2018. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2018.

External links[edit]

External media
audio icon .mp3 recording of Wright reading from "One Big Self" during the Key West Literary Seminar, 2003
video icon Griffin Poetry Prize readings, including video clips
video icon Interview with CD Wright on Words on a Wire
video icon C.D. Wright reading for UC Berkeley's Holloway Series. October 23, 2014.