James Wright Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

James Arlington Wright was born and reared in Martins Ferry, Ohio, near Wheeling, West Virginia, a small town on the Ohio River that provides the setting and background for a number of his poems. Following high school, he served for three years in the U.S. Army in the aftermath of World War II. Upon his return he attended Kenyon College in Ohio, where he began writing poetry. After graduation he spent a year in Austria as a Fulbright fellow and then entered graduate school at the University of Washington, where he obtained both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

He began teaching at the University of Minnesota in 1957, later moving to Macalaster College in St. Paul. Yale University Press in 1957 published his first book, The Green Wall, in its Yale Younger Poets Series, a remarkable achievement for a writer still in graduate school. The volume received positive reviews, especially for its skillful versification and formal facility. A second book, Saint Judas, appeared in 1959, the year Wright completed his Ph.D. dissertation; this volume, too, gained critical applause. These first two books are noteworthy in that some of Wright’s best-known and most often reprinted pieces appeared in them, particularly “Arrangements with Earth for Three Dead Friends,” “A Winter Day in Ohio,” and “The Alarm.” These books also established Wright’s characteristic settings and themes—notably of loneliness and alienation; these remained constants throughout his career.

During his Minnesota period, Wright came in contact with the poet and editor Robert Bly, who had a significant influence on...

(The entire section is 661 words.)

James Wright Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

By all measures, Wright deserves his ranking as one of the foremost American poets of the twentieth century. He is honored by annual convocations in his name held by common readers. He will long be remembered for his heart-wrenching realizations of animals, children, and familiar but rarely perceived states of mind.

James Wright Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

As he proclaims in many of his poems, James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Although he spent much of his adult life in New York City, Wright returned again and again in memory to the Ohio Valley he loved and despised with equal and intense passion for inspiration as well as material for his poems. His imagination was fired by the loneliness and emptiness of the lives of the Ohioans of his youth and by the occasional flashes of kindness, charity, and decency they showed. At the same time, Wright’s preoccupation with steel mills and strip mines confirms a profound concern for the beauty of nature that human beings so indifferently trample upon in the name of economic gain.

Wright left Ohio during World War II and served with the American Occupation Forces in Japan. Upon his discharge, he enrolled at Kenyon College, where he studied literature under John Crowe Ransom. Wright has since acknowledged that this association was a turning point for him, and the traditional structures of his first book, The Green Wall, reflect Ransom’s influence. Wright’s second volume, Saint Judas, was published in the same year as Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, the book that more than any other marked the end of literary modernism in poetry. Lowell and Wright were working independently in the same direction, toward freedom from the insistence on objectivity that had characterized such great modern poets as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens. Like Lowell, Wright sought a more direct exploration of the self as poetic subject and embraced the open subjectivity that Lowell had pioneered. He would abandon the ornate rhetoric that Lowell was never willing to leave behind and would move well beyond Lowell in his experimentation with organic form.

Wright’s chief influence on postmodern poetry may be his exploration of nondiscursive imagery and careful superimposition as a poetic method. His poems aim at a point of discovery, in which the images of the poem combine to produce a sudden realization of the secrets of the inner,...

(The entire section is 850 words.)

James Wright Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Arlington Wright is one of the most significant poetic voices reacting to what has been called the “high modernist” American poetry of the early twentieth century, represented by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and others. His early break from this type of highly formal poetry was associated with the “deep image” school of Robert Bly but soon outgrew such categories. Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, an industrial town on the upper Ohio River, in 1927, fourteen months before the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The insecurities of an industrial town during the Depression haunt his poetry, and the Ohio Valley, with its paradoxical conflux of natural beauty and industrial ugliness, remained prominent in his imagery, even in his poetry written in Europe.

Despite this emphasis on his Ohio home in his writing, Wright’s early years were marked by his keen desire to get away from it. Upon graduation in 1946, he enlisted in the Army and served a tour in Japan. After completing military service, Wright entered Kenyon College in 1948. His senior year, 1952, was filled with milestones: He married his high school sweetheart, Liberty Kardules; had his first poem published in the Western Review; won the Robert Frost Poetry Prize; and received a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Vienna. His first son, Franz, was born in Vienna.

Returning to the United States, Wright began graduate study in English literature at the University of Washington in the fall of 1953. In 1957, his first book of poetry, The Green Wall, was published in the Yale Younger Poets series, a prestigious venue for which the competition is sharp. Further distinction was given the volume via its foreword by the eminent modernist poet W. H. Auden. The verse of The Green Wall is very much like that of the...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

James Wright Biography

(Poetry for Students)

James Wright was born in 1927 in Martins Ferry, Ohio, a small industrial town in the southeastern part of the state. Located just across the...

(The entire section is 437 words.)