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Centenary of Pulitzer-winning poet and Vassar alumna Elizabeth Bishop celebrated with exhibition (8/30-12/15) and symposium (9/24).

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- A major exhibit and symposium organized by the Vassar College Libraries will mark the centenary of the acclaimed poet Elizabeth Bishop, a 1934 Vassar graduate who earned the Pulitzer Prize and many other major U.S. literary honors before her death in 1979. Notably, these events dedicated to Bishop (August 30-December 15, 2011) are part of Vassar’s special yearlong celebration of the sesquicentennial of the college’s founding. All events are free and open to the public. For further information contact the Vassar College Special Collections and Archives Library (845-437-5799,

Central to the exhibit and symposium are Vassar’s unmatched Elizabeth Bishop Papers, acquired in 1981 after the poet’s estate considered several proposals. This premiere collection consists of over 3,500 pages of Bishop’s draft poems and prose, as well as her correspondence, personal papers, working papers, notebooks, diaries, memorabilia, and a substantial amount of material by and about the her friends and colleagues. This major international scholarly resource resides in the college’s Virginia B. Smith Memorial Manuscripts Collection.

Included in the Bishop holdings are over 200 letters from fellow poet and close friend Marianne Moore discussing their work and mutual friends. Similarly over 200 letters from poet Robert Lowell discuss Bishop’s work and his, Bishop’s influence on his work, as well as such prominent writers as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, Flannery O'Connor, and Mary McCarthy.

Since the 1981 acquisition Vassar has steadily expanded its Bishop collection through donations, bequests, and purchases. “These additions have been both significant and sizeable,” writes curator Ronald Patkus for the publication accompanying the Elizabeth Bishop Papers exhibit, From the Archive: Discovering Elizabeth Bishop. “One of the most important additions came in 2002, when the college acquired a collection from the Portinari family in Brazil, which contained among other things Bishop’s baby book; letters to friends from around the time of her partner Lota’s [de Macedo Soares] death; two watercolors; and an annotated copy of the book Brazil, edited by Bishop and first published in 1962.”

About the exhibit/From the Archive: Discovering Elizabeth Bishop
August 30-December 15
Monday-Saturday, 9:00am-5:00pm
Thompson Memorial Library

Curator Ronald Patkus, the Head of Special Collections at the Vassar College Libraries, asked ten Elizabeth Bishop scholars and editors (Joelle Biele, Lorrie Goldensohn, Saskia Hamilton, Bethany Hicok, Brett Millier, Barbara Page, Alice Quinn, Camille Roman, Lloyd Schwartz, and Thomas Travisano) to select items from Vassar’s Bishop collection that were important to their research and writing about the poet.

For example, Brett Millier (Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It, University of California Press, 1995) selected a composition book that Bishop used in 1934 right after graduating from college; in the book Millier found four pages of writing about the nuances of island life that suggest the origin of several later Bishop poems. Camille Roman (Elizabeth Bishop’s World War II-Cold War View, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) chose for the exhibit an early draft of the poem “12 O’Clock News,” because discovering it at Vassar led Roman to re-read Bishop’s poetry through the frame of war. Alice Quinn picked two drafts of the unfinished story “Homesickness”; earlier, on the invitation of Bishop’s longtime editor Robert Giroux, Quinn edited a volume of Bishop writings that only reside in the Vassar collection (Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments By Elizabeth Bishop, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006).

About the symposium “From the Archive: Discovering Elizabeth Bishop”
Contact: Vassar College Special Collections and Archives, (845) 437-5799, 
Panel Discussion: “On Editing Bishop”
Moderated by Thomas Travisano, Professor of English at Hartwick College, with panelists Alice Quinn, Lloyd Schwartz, Saskia Hamilton, and Joelle Biele
September 24, 10:00am-11:30am
Taylor Hall Room 102

The moderator and panelists have all edited volumes of Bishop’s writing, including extensive poems, prose, and correspondence that reside in the Elizabeth Bishop Papers at Vassar. These books include Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence (Biele), Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (Hamilton), Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments (Quinn), Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (Schwartz), and Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (Travisano with Hamilton). The participants will discuss and compare their experiences editing Bishop’s work.

Panel Discussion: “On Teaching Bishop”
Moderated by Barbara Page, Professor Emeritus of English at Vassar College, with panelists Beth Spires, Lorrie Goldensohn, and Jane Shore
September 24, 1:30pm-3:00pm
Taylor Hall Room 102

“All of my panelists are teachers and poets who have written about Elizabeth Bishop. We shall talk about Bishop's importance to them as poets, and their experience teaching Bishop's work to students,” said moderator Barbara Page. “Jane Shore and Beth Spires both met Bishop and have written about how she influenced their own work. Jane Shore knew Bishop as her teacher at Harvard, and Beth Spires interviewed Bishop for an important piece. Lorrie Goldensohn published a distinguished book about Bishop.”

Keynote Address/Curtis Lecture: “The Weirdest Scale on Earth: The Melody of Sentences & The Rhythms of Ordinary Life”
Robert Pinsky
September 24, 5:00pm
Taylor Hall Auditorium 

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will also read his new poem dedicated to Vassar’s sesquicentennial and commissioned by the college for the occasion.

About Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop (8 February 1911- 6 October 1979) stands as a major mid-twentieth century American poet, whose influence has been felt among several subsequent generations of poets. Her many prizes included the Pulitzer for poetry, the National Book Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and Brazil's Order of Rio Branco. Bishop's first book of poems, North & South, appeared in 1946; the second, Poems (including North & South and A Cold Spring), in 1955; the third, Questions of Travel, in 1965, and the last, Geography III, in 1976. A one-time Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Bishop also published several poems in The New Yorker, wrote a number of distinctive short stories, and translated poems and prose in three languages, She wrote a volume in the Life World Library on Brazil, and co-edited An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry.

About the exhibit and symposium participants

Joelle Biele is the author of White Summer and editor of Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence. She has taught American literature and creative writing at the University of Maryland, Goucher College, the University of Oldenburg, Germany, and Jagiellonian University, Poland.

Lorrie Goldensohn was appointed in 2008 as a Fulbright Walt Whitman Distinguished Chair at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and taught at Vassar from 1982 to 2000. Her 1992 book Elizabeth Bishop: The Biography of a Poetry earned a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize.  Dismantling Glory: Twentieth Century Soldier Poetry earned her a National Book Critic’s Circle Award nomination in 2004.  

Saskia Hamilton is a poet who teaches at Barnard College, and the co-editor (with Thomas Travisano) of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (2008). She advised Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the publisher’s edition of Elizabeth Bishop: Poems (2011). She is also the editor of The Letters of Robert Lowell (2005), and her books of poems are As for Dream (2001) and Divide These (2005). 

Bethany Hicok is an associate professor of English at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA, where she has taught since 2001. She is the author of Degrees of Freedom: American Women Poets and Women’s College, 1905-1955 (2008), which looks at the poetic development of women’s college alumnae Elizabeth Bishop (Vassar), Marianne Moore (Bryn Mawr), and Sylvia Plath (Smith). She is the co-editor of The New Elizabeth Bishop: Reading the 21st Century Editions, an essay collection due out in 2012, and she is currently working on a new book project Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil. She has also written about Bishop, Moore, and Wallace Stevens for such publications as the Journal of Modern Literature and Contemporary Literature.

Brett Millier is the Reginald L. Cook Professor of American Literature and Chair of the Department of English and American Literatures at Middlebury College, and has authored Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It (1995). A specialist in American poetry, twentieth-century American fiction, and Canadian literature, she has also written Flawed Light: American Women Poets and Alcohol (2009), and is the associate editor of The Columbia History of American Poetry.

Barbara Page is Professor Emeritus of English at Vassar College, and has published a number of essays based on research in the Bishop papers at Vassar, including one of the first: “Shifting Islands: Elizabeth Bishop’s Manuscripts” (in Shenandoah, 1981-82). Her most recent essay will appear in the forthcoming volume, The New Elizabeth Bishop: Reading the 21st-century Edition. She is currently writing a book, with co-author Carmen L. Oliveira, tentatively titled Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil, accompanied by a website documenting and illustrating Bishop’s life in Brazil.

Ron Patkus is the Head of Special Collections in the Vassar College Libraries, and an adjunct associate professor of history. His research interests include library collections, the history of books and printing, religion in America, and local history.  He has produced or edited a number of books and articles, including most recently Ars Omnia Tuetur: 25 Years of Fine Printing at Thornwillow Press.  He is currently researching the work of Welsh book artist Shirley Jones and the Red Hen Press. Patkus teaches a course on “The Printed Bible,” and co-teaches “The Medium of Print and the History of Books,” “Detectives in the Archive: Reading Medieval and Renaissance Texts,” and “The Reformation Era.”  

Robert Pinsky was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1997-2000, including an unprecedented third term. During that time thousands of Americans contributed suggestions to his “Favorite Poem Project” and some were asked to read their selection for a permanent audio archive at the Library of Congress. The eventual anthology Americans' Favorite Poems is in its eighteenth printing, since followed by two subsequent anthologies. Collections of his own poetry include Selected Poems (2011), Gulf Music (2007) and The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 (1997), which was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and earned Pinsky both the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union. His poems appear frequently in The Best American Poetry anthologies, and in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Threepenny Review. His best-selling translation of The Inferno of Dante received the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the Howard Morton Landon Prize for translation. He is also co-translator of The Separate Notebooks, poems by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz. He was elected in 1999 to the American Academy of Arts and has won the PENNoelcker Award, the William Carlos Williams Prize, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture's 2006 Jewish Cultural Achievement Award in Literary Arts, and the 2008 Theodore M. Roethke Memorial Poetry Award. Pinsky teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University. He continues to be the poetry editor for the online magazine Slate, and for seven years he appeared regularly on PBS’s The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Alice Quinn is executive director of the Poetry Society of America and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts.  In 2006 she edited Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments, which made available unfinished work of Elizabeth Bishop from the Vassar collection of the poet’s papers. She is currently at work on an edition of Bishop’s notebooks. From 1987 to 2007 she was poetry editor at The New Yorker magazine, and before that for ten years she was poetry editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

Camille Roman published the book Elizabeth Bishop’s World War II-Cold War View (2004), in addition to several related essays.  In 2010 she blogged on the Elizabeth Bishop centennial website in Canada about her first encounter with Bishop, and she is also a long-term member of the Elizabeth Bishop Society advisory board. She is currently co-editing a Frost and Hemingway project that includes Bishop. Roman has edited a dozen books on American and twentieth-century musics, women and language, and American poetries.

Lloyd Schwartz is Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Classical Music Editor of The Boston Phoenix, and a regular commentator for NPR's Fresh Air. He is co-editor of the Library of America’s Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters and the editor of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux’s Centennial Edition of Bishop’s Prose. In 1994, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His poems, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Pushcart Prize, and The Best American Poetry.

Jane Shore is a professor of English at George Washington University, where she teaches Creative Writing, Modern and Contemporary Poetry, with an interest in Elizabeth Bishop (who taught Shore at Harvard). She is the author of five books of poems: Eye Level, winner of the 1977 Juniper Prize; The Minute Hand, awarded the 1986 Lamont Prize; Music Minus One, a finalist for the 1996 National Book Critic Circle Award; Happy Family (1999); and A Yes-or-No Answer (2008), winner of the 2010 Poets Prize. Her New and Selected Poems will be published in 2012. Widely anthologized, Shore’s poems have also appeared in The New Yorker and The Yale Review. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, Radcliffe Institute Fellow, and Hodder Fellow at Princeton, and twice been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Poet, children's book author, and Vassar College alumna (class of 1974) Elizabeth Spires is a professor of English at Goucher College. She interviewed Elizabeth Bishop for "An Afternoon with Elizabeth Bishop" in the Winter 1979 edition of the Vassar Quarterly, a version of which later appeared in the Paris Review (1981). Her recent poetry collections include I Heard God Talking to Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings, a “Best Books of 2009” selection by School Library Journal, as well as The Wave-Maker (2008) and Now the Green Blade Rises (2002). Spires has earned the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry (1998), Whiting Writer’s Award (1996), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1992), and is currently a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library. Her poems have also appeared in five volumes of Best American Poetry, and in such periodicals as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Poetry.

Thomas Travisano is professor of English and Chair of English and Theatre Arts at Hartwick College, where he has also recently served as Wandersee Scholar in Residence. He is the author of Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development (1988) and Midcentury Quartet: Bishop, Lowell, Jarrell, Berryman and the Making of a Postmodern Aesthetic (1999). He is principal editor of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. His most recent project is a forthcoming collection of essays on the “new” Elizabeth Bishop who emerges from the twenty-first century editions of her poetry, prose and letters. Travisano is founding president of the Elizabeth Bishop Society and Senior Advisor to the Robert Lowell Society, and is beginning work on a new critical biography of Elizabeth Bishop. He is also co-editor of the three volume New Anthology of American Poetry (2003, 2005, and forthcoming).

About the Vassar College Sesquicentennial

When the New York State Legislature passed “An Act to Incorporate Vassar Female College” on January 18, 1861, the world’s first college to provide comprehensive higher education to women was officially founded. Less than two months later, on April 12, 1861, the first shot of the U.S. Civil War was fired at the Union-controlled Fort Sumter in South Carolina. On April 9, 1865, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA and by September 26 of that year the first 353 students—including one Civil War widow—were welcomed to Poughkeepsie, NY to attend the eventually renamed Vassar College.  Vassar became a co-educational college in 1969 and today enrolls more than 2,400 students (approximately sixty percent women and forty percent men). At the sesquicentennial of its founding Vassar continues to distinguish itself in a wide variety of ways.

Disability Access and Directions

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at  

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.XX

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, August 16, 2011

About the Arts

Powerhouse Theater

The Powerhouse Theater is a collaboration between New York Stage and Film and Vassar College. It is dedicated to both emerging and established artists in the development and production of new works for theater and film. During an intense eight-week summer residency on the Vassar campus, up to twenty different projects are publicly presented, typically engaging more than 200 professional artists and theater students. Plays, musicals, and screenplays are presented in a variety of forms: readings, workshops, and fully staged productions. Since the first Powerhouse Theater season in 1985, New York Stage and Film and Vassar have served more than 2,000 artists and over 175,000 audience members through the development and production of artistically exceptional and affordably priced performances.

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Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

Located just inside Vassar's Main Gate, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center houses the college's permanent collection, over 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares, charting the history of art from antiquity to the present. The Permanent Collection Galleries feature 350 works, ranging from the sculpted Head of Viceroy Merymose from His Outer Sarcophagus (Egyptian, c 1375 BCE) in the Antiquities Gallery to Marsden Hartley's oil on canvas Indian Composition (1914-15) in the Twentieth Century Gallery. For information on current and upcoming special exhibitions, self-guided and curriculum-based tours, and group visits, please visit the website. The art center is open to the public, and admission is free.

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James W. Palmer Gallery

Located in the College Center in Main Building, the James W. Palmer III '90 Gallery presents eight shows annually, including exhibitions by renowned artists and photographers, studio art faculty and students, and local arts organizations. Recent highlights included Andrea Baldeck’s black-and-white photo exhibit, Touching the Mekong: A Southeast Asian Sojourn, organized by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; the Vassar Haiti Project’s annual exhibition and auction of imported arts and handcrafts; and Design Inside, showcasing the work of Vassar’s College Relations design team. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. For information on upcoming exhibitions, visit the website or call (845) 437-5370.

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Music Department

Located in the Belle Skinner Hall of Music, the Martel Recital Hall is wonderfully suited, both acoustically and aesthetically, to music performance. With seating for 500, the Martel is home to the Vassar College Orchestra, Choir, Women's Chorus, Madrigal Singers, and numerous chamber groups and ensembles. The Martel concert schedule routinely includes distinguished guest artists, faculty recitals, senior recitals, and special musical events, such as last year's series of organ recitals celebrating the installation and dedication of the college's superb pipe organ, designed by masterbuilder Paul Fritts. For information on upcoming concerts and events (which are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted), please visit the website.

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Dance Department

The Department of Dance sponsors several public performances each year. Among those, the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT) has a series of Works in Progress showings in the fall, a winter Modfest performance in conjunction with the The Department of Music, winter galas at the 1869 Bardavon Opera House, and two All Parents Weekend performances in the spring. The department's Master Class program annually invites at least one ballet and one modern expert to campus in addition to two people in other areas of dance. Public performances and lectures are often associated with these renowned visitors. Guest artists in the past have included: Irina Kolpokova, Arthur Mitchell, Helene Alexopoulos, Gregory Hines, Anna Kisselgoff, Donald Byrd, Edward Villella, Ronald K. Brown, Irene Dowd, Allegra Kent, Gelsey Kirkland, Pilobolus w/Adam Battlestein, Suzanne Farrell, Mummenschantz, Eldar Aliev, Deborah Jowitt, Bill T. Jones, Pascal Rioult, Clinton Luckett of ABT, Bill Irwin, and Donald McKayle. Many of the department's dance performances are in the Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater, located in Kenyon Hall.

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Drama Department Experimental Theater

Presenting several public performances each semester in the Martel Theater of the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film and the Hallie Flanagan Davis Powerhouse Theater, the Experimental Theater is a place to explore theories learned in the classroom and to experiment with theatrical forms. In the tradition of pioneering stage director Hallie Flanagan, students are encouraged to experience and experiment with all aspects of the theater. Flanagan, who accepted a position to teach drama at Vassar in 1925, founded the Experimental Theater following her visit to the theaters of Europe in 1926 on a Guggenheim Fellowship. (

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The Film Department at Vassar College hosts a steady stream of guest artists and lecturers and is located in the state-of-the-art Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film. The film program encompasses major aspects of the discipline: the history and theory of cinema, dramatic writing, and film/video/digital production, within the framework of a liberal arts education.

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Archives and Special Collections Library

A rotating series of exhibitions is offered each year by the Catherine Pelton Durrell '25 Archives and Special Collections Library, which is the principal repository of the College's noteworthy collections of rare books, manuscripts, archival records of Vassar College, and other special materials. The library's collections date from the 15th century (the age of incunabula) to the present. Notable examples include books important in women's history, first editions of English and American literary and historical works, examples of fine printing, collections of courtesy and cookbooks, children's books, and rare maps and atlases. The Virginia B. Smith Manuscript Collection includes manuscripts by and about women which were gathered during President Smith’s tenure, such as the papers of Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Bishop. Also of note are papers of writers Samuel L. Clemens and Edna St. Vincent Millay; early naturalist John Burroughs, historian Lucy Maynard Salmon, feminist and historian Alma Lutz, astronomer Maria Mitchell, anthropologist Ruth Benedict, and physicist Albert Einstein. Archives and Special Collections is located in the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library.

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