An illuminating new biography of one of the greatest American poets of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop's friend James Merrill once observed that "Elizabeth had more talent for life—and for poetry—than anyone else I've known." This new biography reveals just how she learned to marry her talent for life with her talent for writing in order to create a brilliant array of poems, prose, and letters—a remarkable body of work that would make her one of America's most beloved and celebrated poets. In Love Unknown, Thomas Travisano, founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, tells the story of the famous poet and traveler's life.

Bishop moved through extraordinary mid-twentieth century worlds with relationships among an extensive international array of literati, visual artists, musicians, scholars, and politicians—along with a cosmopolitan gay underground that was then nearly invisible to the dominant culture. Drawing on fresh interviews and newly discovered manuscript materials, Travisano illuminates that the "art of losing" that Bishop celebrated with such poignant irony in her poem, "One Art," perhaps her most famous, was linked in equal part to an "art of finding," that Bishop's art and life was devoted to the sort of encounters and epiphanies that so often appear in her work.


Cover photograph: courtesy of Elizabeth Bishop Papers, Archives and Special Collections Library, Vassar College
"The accounts [in Love Unknown] are parsed with particular insight by Travisano, a Bishop specialist, who assiduously traces the influence of the life on the work." —The New Yorker

"Reading [Love Unknown] is almost as enjoyable as reading one of Bishop’s strange and marvelous poems." —The Washington Post

"A definitive biography–cum–literary study of Elizabeth Bishop… Travisano’s essential volume illuminates Bishop’s life and, most valuably, her work." —Publishers Weekly (starred)

"Utterly captivating... illuminating, interwoven analysis of [Elizabeth Bishop's] work." —Booklist (starred) 

"A masterly biography." —Library Journal (starred) 

“An authoritative and sensitive biography... A finely textured portrait of an acclaimed poet.” —Kirkus

“This is the biography we’ve been waiting for. Alternately heartbreaking and joyous, it contains many fascinating discoveries, all orchestrated by an insightful, sympathetic narrator.” Steven Axelrod, President of the Robert Lowell Society and author of Robert Lowell: Life and Art

“Thomas Travisano’s new critical biography, Love Unknown, is as illuminating as it is engrossing—a major addition to our ever-deepening understanding of Bishop’s life and singular art.” —Lloyd Schwartz, poet, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, and co-editor of Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters

"You are confident, reading Travisano's Love Unknown, that his biography comes as close to communicating an understanding and appreciation of the elusive and complicated Bishop as can be achieved." —Scott Donaldson, author of Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald and The Paris Husband

"Elizabeth Bishop's great poetry has been considered an art of loss, as in her celebrated ironic line, 'the art of losing isn't hard to master.' In Thomas Travisano's new, wide-ranging biography, she emerges instead as a poet of gain upon gain, maker of an art grown from all she had lost in childhood. He gives us a writer alive to adventure, ever seeking, discovering, and burning with the fire to transmute ordinary things she encounters into gold." —Grace Schulman, winner of the Frost Medal of Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry

"Thomas Travisano has deftly orchestrated an immense amount of research and years of meditation on the life of this great poet. The result is a biography that is full of revelations, indispensable readings of the poems, no candle unlit in illuminating Bishop's writing life from childhood to her last year. This is an utterly captivating book." Howard Norman, author of The Ghost Clause

"Thomas Travisano displays a particular mastery of the contexts of Elizabeth Bishop’s life and art. He offers much new and precisely evaluated insight into Bishop’s family, friends and communities. Travisano ends his biography in a truly Bishop-like fashion—with a funny and incisive story, a story that shows how well he appreciates and can emulate Bishop’s singular and deceptive casualness of tone." 
—Lorrie Goldensohn, author of Elizabeth Bishop: The Biography of a Poetry