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.
“For more than thirty years, Thomas Travisano’s discoveries and insights have helped consolidate Elizabeth Bishop’s now unassailable position in American letters. His 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

"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 the writer as a quintessential American, alive to adventure, ever seeking, discovering, and burning with the fire to transmute ordinary things she encounters into gold. Travisano sees beyond her supposed formality, and through the veil of her 'dispassionate coolness,' as her friend, Robert Lowell once put it, to present her as a woman passionately engaged with life and art and love, yet light-heartedly resigned to her limitations."
Grace Schulman, Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Winner of the Frost Medal of Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry

“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

"If asked to name someone who exemplified all that a writer could go through and all that a writer could be in a lifetime, many would say Elizabeth Bishop. We should be grateful for Thomas Travisano for so deftly orchestrating 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

"This canny biographer displays a particular mastery of the contexts of Elizabeth Bishop’s life and art. He has listened to the voices of those who knew the poet, and 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

"It’s been 25 years since the two previous biographies of Elizabeth Bishop were published, and Thomas Travisano has spent that quarter century getting to know the places and people that shaped her much-traveled life and her extraordinary, often dark, yet surprisingly humorous poems. 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 nine biographies of twentieth century American writers