Franz Wright was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1953 to James Wright and Liberty Wright. James, a war veteran and the son of a laborer, would become one of America’s most influential poets. When Franz was three months old, the Wrights left Vienna for the United States, where James continued his education at the University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethke. The family moved again when James got a job teaching at the University of Minnesota. On weekends, they visited the poet Robert Bly on his farm.
When Franz was eight years old, his parents divorced. Franz and his three-year-old brother Marshall moved with their mother to San Francisco. The elder Wright eventually moved to New York to teach at Hunter College.
James Wright’s absence was a deep wound for Franz, made worse by the fact that he and his brother were regularly beaten by their new stepfather. Franz describes a mostly solitary existence, exploring San Francisco on foot, reading “the great books” so he could be like his dad, but also enjoying the Green Lantern. Though his loneliness was intense and he longed for his father terribly, he also came to love the solitude of those walks.
The family moved to nearby Walnut Creek, where Franz excelled in school. He had a vague intention to pursue science or music, but that changed in his fifteenth year. Early one morning, while on vacation in northern California, he woke up with a strange feeling. He went for a walk in a nearby orchard, marveling at this wonderful change in himself and the world. Suddenly words arrived, unbidden, and he sat down and wrote a seven-line poem. His joy at this was so powerful that Wright immediately dedicated his life to the pursuit of poetry. It was frightening to shoulder the burden of what seemed like fate. Somehow he knew he would not be able to have a normal life. Still, the intoxication he felt, surprised to be the bearer of something so mysterious and lovely, gave him consolation and hope.
He sent the poem to his father, who famously wrote back, “I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to Hell.”...
(The entire section is 859 words.)