James Tate came onto the literary scene at the age of twenty-three, when his first full-length manuscript of poems, The Lost Pilot, was selected for publication in the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Series by Yale University Press. Other works, long and short, followed, and Tate became editor of the Dickinson Review in 1967. He has also served as an associate editor at Pym-Randall Press and Barn Dream Press (small presses located in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and as a consultant to the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. For two years running, in 1968 and 1969, and again in 1980, he received writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1972, he was the Phi Beta Kappa poet at Brown University. He won a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1974, followed two years later by a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1992 for Selected Poems. In 1994, he was honored with a National Book Award for Worshipful Company of Fletchers, and in 1995 with a Wallace Stevens Award from the American Academy of Poets. He edited The Best American Poetry, 1997 (1997), and his poems have been included in many editions of the anthology. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007.
Tate has established himself as a formidable exponent of literary surrealism of a peculiarly American kind. His work has garnered the praise of many academic critics and journal reviewers; his poetry has appeared across the gamut of magazines in North America and England and has influenced the style of many young writers.
Harms, James. “Clarity Instead of Order: The Practice of Postmodernism in the Poetry of James Tate.” In A Poetry Criticism Reader, edited by Jerry Harp and Jan Weissmiller. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006. Examines Tate’s poetry and what characterizes it as postmodern poetry. Says Tate’s poems “exist in that nether region which is redolent of dreams but saturated with reality.”
Henry, Brian, ed. On James Tate. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Contains essays on Tate’s poetry, including his use of the prose poem, and numerous reviews of his works, from early to late.
McDaniel, Craig. “James Tate’s Secret Co-Pilot.” New England Review 23, no. 2 (Spring, 2002): 55-74. Examines Tate’s development as a poet in relationship to Fyodor Dostoevski’s prose and how it influenced “The Lost Pilot.”
Revell, Donald. “The Lost Pilot.” In Masterplots II: Poetry Series, edited by Philip K. Jason. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2002. Contains an in-depth analysis of the poem.
Rosen, R. D. “James Tate and Sidney Goldfarb and the Inexhaustible Nature of the Murmur.” In American Poetry Since 1960: Some Critical Perspectives, edited by Robert B. Shaw. Cheshire, England: Carcanet Press, 1973. Argues that both Tate and Goldfarb belong to a generation that uses poetry to escape from the postwar age; their writing, notes Rosen, is that of moral outlaws.
Tate, James. The Route as Briefed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Collects Tate’s interviews, essays, and occasional writings; he comments on his composing method and fields questions from various interviewers about the peculiar nature of his lyric arguments, his influences, and the like.
Upton, Lee. The Muse of Abandonment: Origin, Identity, Mastery in Five American Poets. London: Associated University Presses, 1998. A critical study of the works of five twentieth century American poets, including Tate, and their points of view on alienation, power, and identity. Includes bibliographical references and index.