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Related Prose
An Anatomy of the Long Poem
by Rachel Zucker
Groundbreaking Book: The Branch Will Not Break by James Wright (1963)
On "On the Skeleton of a Hound"
by Mark Doty
Poetry Landmark: James Wright's hometown of Martins Ferry, OH
Tended Strength: Gifts of Poetry for Fathers
The Poetry of Place: James Wright's "The Secret of Light"
by James Galvin
Poets of the Midwest
Albert Goldbarth
David Baker
David Young
Gwendolyn Brooks
Lorine Niedecker
Mona Van Duyn
Philip Levine
Robert Hayden
Ted Kooser
Theodore Roethke
Weldon Kees
Related Poets
Franz Wright
External Links
James Wright (1927-1980)
A collection of critical, historical, and biographical information at the Modern American Poetry site.
James Wright teachers' guide
From the Heath Anthology of American Literature Online Instructor's Guide
Poet's Choice: James Wright
Robert Hass discusses Wright's work in the September 27, 1998, Washington Post.
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James Wright

James Wright

On December 13, 1927, James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school beyond the eighth grade. While in high school in 1943 Wright suffered a nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. When he graduated in 1946, a year late, he joined the army and was stationed in Japan during the American occupation. He then attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and studied under John Crowe Ransom. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1952, then married another Martins Ferry native, Liberty Kardules. The two traveled to Austria, where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna. He returned to the U.S. and earned master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and New York City's Hunter College.

The poverty and human suffering Wright witnessed as a child profoundly influenced his writing and he used his poetry as a mode to discuss his political and social concerns. He modeled his work after Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, whose engagement with profound human issues and emotions he admired. The subjects of Wright's earlier books, The Green Wall (winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1957) and Saint Judas (1959), include men and women who have lost love or have been marginalized from society for such reasons as poverty and sexual orientation, and they invite the reader to step in and experience the pain of their isolation. Wright possessed the ability to reinvent his writing style at will, moving easily from stage to stage. His earlier work adheres to conventional systems of meter and stanza, while his later work exhibits more open, looser forms, as with The Branch Will Not Break (1963). James Wright was elected a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in New York City in 1980.

A Selected Bibliography


The Green Wall (1957)
Saint Judas (1959)
The Lion's Tail and Eyes: Poems Written Out of Laziness and Silence (1962)
The Branch Will Not Break (1963)
Shall We Gather at the River (1969)
Collected Poems (1971)
Two Citizens (1973)
Moments of the Italian Summer (1976)
To a Blossoming Pear Tree (1977)
This Journey (1982)
Above the River: The Complete Poems (1992)


Collected Prose (1983)


Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl (1961)
Twenty Poems of CÚsar Vallejo (1962)
The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Storm (1964)
Twenty Poems of Pablo Neruda (1968)
Poems by Hesse (1970)
Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems (1971)
Wandering: Notes and Sketches by Hesse (1972)


From the Image Archive
Poems by
James Wright

A Blessing
As I Step Over a Puddle at the End of Winter, I Think of an Ancient Chinese Governor
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio
Living by the Red River
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Northern Pike
On the Skeleton of a Hound
The Secret of Light
To the Saguaro Cactus Tree in the Desert Rain

Read by
James Wright

A Glass of Beer by James Stephens
Adam's Curse by W. B. Yeats
During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy
I am Raftery the Poet by Anthony Raftery
Song for the Clatter-Bones by F. R. Higgins
The Lady That Loved a Swine by Anonymous
The Yellow Bittern (An Bunnan Bui) by Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna

Prose by
James Wright

From the Archive: Postcard to Betty Kray
Transcript: James Wright on the Poetic Prose of H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, E. M. Forster, and Leo Tolstoy
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