C. D. Wright, January 6, 1949–January 12, 2016

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Jan 13 2016

The Academy of American Poets is deeply saddened by the news that C. D. Wright has passed away at the age of sixty-seven.

Wright was elected a member of the Academy's Board of Chancellors in 2013. This honorary body of esteemed poets has included W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Lucille Clifton, Adrienne Rich, Mark Strand, and other poets who have helped define the art of poetry in the United States.

Anne Waldman praised her selection as Chancellor, saying: “Brilliantly astute, generous, witty, panoramic, celebratory, C. D. Wright is one of our most fearless writers, possessed with an urgency that pierces through the darkness of our time. She carries a particular Southern demographic that bears witness, that investigates history, humanity, and consciousness in powerfully innovative, often breathtaking language. Hers is a necessary poetics, on fire with life and passion for what matters.”

C. D. Wright was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas, on January 6, 1949. She received a BA degree from Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) in 1971 and an MFA from the University of Arkansas in 1976.

She has published numerous volumes of poetry, including the forthcoming ShallCross (Copper Canyon Press, 2016); One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), which received the 2011 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and the National Book Critics Circle Award; 40 Watts (Octopus Books, 2009); Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), which won the 2009 International Griffin Poetry Prize; Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Copper Canyon Press, 2003), with photographer Deborah Luster, which won the Lange-Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University; and Steal Away: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2002).

Her other books include Deepstep Come Shining (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); Tremble (Ecco Press, 1996); Just Whistle: A Valentine (Kelsey St. Press, 1993); String Light (University of Georgia Press, 1991), which won the Poetry Center Book Award; Further Adventures With You (Carnegie Mellon, 1986); and Translation of the Gospel Back Into Tongues (State University of New York Press, 1981). She has also published two state literary maps, one for Arkansas, her native state, and one for Rhode Island, her adopted state.

Her collection of essays The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All Paperback was published in January 2016, also by Copper Canyon. 

While much of Wright’s early work is narrative in content, her later poetry is characterized by experimental forms, sharp wit, and a strong sense of place, most notably rooted in Mexico, the Ozarks, and Rhode Island. 

“Poetry is a necessity of life," Wright has said. “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

She received numerous honors, including a Lannan Literary Award, the 2005 Robert Creeley Award, a Whiting Award, the Witter Bynner Prize, and fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She served as state poet of Rhode Island from 1994 to 1999.

Wright lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and taught at Brown University. She is survived by her husband, the poet Forrest Gander, and their son, Brecht.