Susan Howe Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Susan Howe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 10, 1937. With the exception of a relatively brief period in Buffalo, New York, her childhood and adolescence were spent in Boston and Cambridge, where she attended the Beaver Country Day School, from which she was graduated in 1955. Also in 1955, she began a year’s study at the Gate Theater, Dublin, Ireland, acting and designing sets. From 1957 to 1961, she attended the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston. She next took up residence in New York City, working as a painter and exhibiting her paintings at a number of galleries, including the Kornblee. In 1961, she married Harvey Quaytman, and their daughter Rebecca was born that same year. When her marriage ended in 1966, Howe began living with the sculptor David von Schlegell, and in 1967, their son Mark was born. The couple was married from 1976 to 1992, when Schlegell died.

In 1971, Howe moved to Guilford, Connecticut. From 1975 to 1980, she produced the program Poetry for WBAI, New York City’s Pacifica Radio station. In 1988-1989, she was Butler Fellow at the State University of New York, Buffalo. In 1990-1991, she was a visiting professor of writing at Temple University in Philadelphia. Howe was a professor of English at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from 1989 to 2007 and served as the Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities. She was the 2007 Sherry Memorial Visiting Poet at the University of Chicago. Her third husband, Peter Hewitt Hare, died in 2008. Howe served as the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow for fall, 2009, at the American Academy in Berlin.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Susan Howe has a reputation as a leading experimental poet, and her varied experiences have given her a rich background for her unusual writings. She has been active as an actress, a painter, a radio producer, and an assistant stage designer at the Gate Theater in Dublin. Howe’s father was a Harvard Law professor, and her mother was an Irish playwright and actress. Howe graduated in 1961 from the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, where she received first prize in painting. During the next ten years she moved from painting pictures to painting with words to writing poetry.

Howe’s interest in the unusual in literature began in the 1950’s when she was still in high school and spent her time in libraries, searching for out-of-the-way volumes and unfamiliar words. History was her favorite subject in school.

Howe was influenced by the poet Charles Olson, the painter Agnes Martin, and the historian Richard Slotkin, as well as by poet Emily Dickinson and Cotton Mather and other early Puritan writers. As a writer she has identified most persistently with Virginia Woolf, whose work she began to read early.

The artistic experimentation and freedom of the 1960’s remain Howe’s permanent milieu. Her work during that time was in paint but anticipates some of her later preoccupations, for she began listing words under her paintings and, increasingly, leaving white space around her art. Collage, a favorite technique of hers, can still be seen in her poetry today.

Strongly as her background as a painter influenced her poetry, her interest in the theater may have influenced it even more. A Susan Howe poem looks like a stage, with words as actors. The placement of her words is crucial, and it follows that the way the eye moves across the page of a Howe poem is part of the poem: The eye skips, jumps, bounces, the attention is distracted, then brought sideways. There is evident drama in her...

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