Authors: Anne Carson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Canadian poet and essayist

Author Works

Poetry:

Short Talks, 1992 (chapbook)

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, 1998

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos, 2001

Nonfiction:

Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay, 1986

Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan, 1999

Translations:

Electra, 2001 (of Sophocles’ play)

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, 2002 (of Sappho’s poetry)

Miscellaneous:

Plainwater: Essays and Poetry, 1995

Glass, Irony, and God, 1995 (poetry and essays)

Men in the Off Hours, 2000 (poetry and essays)

Biography

Anne Carson was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to Robert John Carson and Margaret Katharine Ryerson Carson. She became intrigued by the classics while in high school. She studied the Greek language in her last year of high school and continued her classical studies at the University of Toronto, where she earned a B.A. in 1974, an M.A. in 1975, and a Ph.D. in 1980. The University of St. Andrews, located in Fife, Scotland, awarded her a diploma in classics in 1976. Carson taught at the University of Calgary from 1979 to 1980. In 1980 she began her tenure at Princeton University. Carson remained at Princeton until 1987. While there, she published Eros the Bittersweet. This critical study on romantic love and lust in Greek poetry was praised for its original vision and intellectual rigor.{$I[A]Carson, Anne}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Carson, Anne}{$I[geo]CANADA;Carson, Anne}{$I[tim]1950;Carson, Anne}

Carson taught at Emory University in Atlanta from 1987 to 1988. In 1988 she became professor of classics at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Carson was named the John MacNaughton Professor of Classics at McGill University in 2000. In addition to holding teaching posts at such prestigious United States universities as Princeton and Emory, she has taught at the University of Michigan (1999), the University of California at Berkeley (2000), and the California College of Arts and Crafts (2001) in Oakland. She published her first poetry collection, Short Talks, in 1992. This chapbook was made up of a group of prose poems. In 1995 Carson published both Plainwater and Glass, Irony, and God. Each of these volumes included both poetry and essays.

Reviewers were struck by Carson’s intellectual originality and her ability to integrate prose and poetry in these 1995 collections. She drew on such diverse literary sources as Gertrude Stein, medieval Japanese literature, and ancient Greek poets. Her work was touted for being “sexy,” “hilarious,” and “lyrical.” Always in search of an off-center connection between cultures or philosophies that would explode a preconceived notion, Carson was both praised and criticized for the literary chances that she took. She won a Lannan Literary Award in 1996. In 1998 she published one of her boldest literary works. Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse is a poem of epic proportions. It is a retelling of a Greek myth involving the monster Geryon and Herakles (as his name is spelled in the poem; commonly known to contemporary readers as Hercules). In the myth, Geryon is killed by Herakles as part of his tenth labor. The mythical Geryon had three bodies and three heads. For purposes of her “novel in verse,” Carson turned the monster into a boy of the present who is red and has wings. Amazingly, Autobiography in Red sold more than twenty-five thousand copies. It was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and won Quebec’s prestigious QSPELL Poetry Award. Carson also was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998.

For Carson’s next collection, Men in the Off Hours, she employed short poems interspersed with “verse-essays,” as she had done in her 1995 collections. She brings together such literary giants as Virginia Woolf and Thucydides. It won the 2001 Griffin Poetry Prize and was cited by the judges for containing “quatrains studded with uncanny images” and for showing off Carson’s “dialectical imagination, and her quizzical, stricken moral sense.” In 2000 she received a MacArthur Fellowship, which is considered a “genius” award. Always curious, always on the lookout for another “accidental inspiration,” Carson has thirsted to know more and to stretch herself as a poet, as a scholar, and as a translator. Her 2001 collection, The Beauty of the Husband, won the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. As with her previous works, Carson continued to seek answers concerning “gender, desire, anger, self, and language” that would show the world around her in a new light.

BibliographyBurt, Stephen. “Anne Carson: Poetry Without Borders.” Publishers Weekly 247 (April 3, 2000): 56-57. Burt takes a close look at Carson’s sense of purpose as a writer, saying she likes to stay intellectually curious and is constantly looking for new challenges.Gannon, Mark. “Anne Carson: Beauty Prefers an Edge.” Poets and Writers Magazine, March/April, 2001, 26-33. A revealing interview, in which Carson addresses her love for “dead” languages and how poetry keeps her focused.Halliday, Mark. “Carson: Mind and Heart.” Chicago Review 45, no. 2 (1999): 121-127. In his review of Carson’s ambitious “novel in verse” Autobiography in Red, Halliday comes away from the reading both wary and hopeful of Carson’s erudition and bold approach to poetry.Marks, Steven. “Anne Carson.” In American Poets Since World War II, edited by Joseph Conte. Vol. 193 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. A richly detailed and insightful overview of Carson’s career as a poet and scholar.Rehak, Melanie. “Things Fall Together.” The New York Times Magazine, March 26, 2000, 34-39. This instructive article delves into how Carson approaches life and writing: She refuses to be bored, refuses to isolate herself from the serendipitous connections that can happen at a moment’s notice.
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