James Wright | Biography

Quick Wiki

  • Full Name James Wright
  • Occupation Poet
  • Nationality America
  • Birthplace Ohio, USA
  • Birth Date Dec 13, 1927
  • Death Date 1980-03-25
  • Age At Death 52 yrs
American Poet, who won 'Pulitzer Prize'

James Wright | Biography

James Wright's fourth volume of poetry won him the most prestigious award of his career. His 'Collected Poems' (1971), funded by a Rockefeller Foundation grant, earned him the 'Pulitzer Prize' in Poetry in 1972.

James Wright was an American poet best known for his work 'Collected Poems,' for which he won the 'Pulitzer Prize.'

Who is James Wright?

James Wright was an American poet who wrote about grief, redemption, and self-discovery, often using pictures of nature and industry from his native Ohio River valley. He received the 'Pulitzer Prize' for 'Collected Poems' in 1972. (1971). His other works include 'The Green Wall' (1957), 'Saint Judas' (1959), 'The Branch Shall Not Break' (1963), 'Shall We Gather at the River' (1968), 'To a Blossoming Pear Tree' (1977), and 'This Journey' (1982). 

Early Life and Education

James Wright, in full, James Arlington Wright, was born on December 13, 1927, in the small Ohio town of Martins Ferry. His father worked for fifty years in a glass factory, and his mother dropped out of high school at the age of fourteen to work in a laundry. None of them completed eighth grade.

About how he developed an interest in poetry, Wright, in one of his interviews, said, "At age eleven... when a friend, "started to teach me Latin. He gave me the collected works of Lord Byron." " Wright was so moved that he wrote his first poem on the spot, 'Fortunately.'

In 1943, Wright had a nervous breakdown in high school and missed a year of school. A year later, after his graduation, Wright entered the army and was stationed in Japan during the American occupation of Japan. Soon, he returned to study under John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College. In 1952, he earned a bachelor's degree with distinction and became a member of the honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.

Wright then married Liberty Kardules, a Martins Ferry resident. The couple then traveled to Austria, where Wright studied the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna on a Fulbright Fellowship. They returned to the United States for Wright to study at the University of Washington. He graduated from the University with master's and doctoral degrees. Here, he studied with the classic poets Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz. Later in his career, he taught at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and Hunter College in New York City.


Wright wrote his first two novels, 'The Green Wall' (1957) and 'Saint Judas' (1959), driving inspiration from the poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson, Georg Trakl, and Robert Frost. Wright's first novel, 'The Green Wall,' won him the 'Yale Series of Younger Poets Award,' in 1957. His second novel 'Saint Judas' (1959), was about men and women who have lost love or who have been marginalized from society for reasons such as poverty or sexual orientation. The book allowed readers to step in and feel the pain of their alienation.

Even though he considered forsaking poetry several times, notably during his early years of poverty and frustration, Wright's obsession with poetry lasted the remainder of his life. “I am going to keep myself from writing if I have to tape my fingers and thumbs together,” he wrote in a 1947 letter. Nonetheless, he was disappointed with his own work as well as the state of American poetry, which he saw as extremely conventional and staid, influenced by so-called New Criticism.

With an ability to discover a new writing style at his wish, Wright could quickly shift from one point to another. While his initial works followed traditional meter and stanza structures, Wright's creations became to be more flexible and had looser forms as the days went by.

His third work, 'The Branch Shall Not Break' (1963), explored the free verse style of writing, and it was considered one of the most influential volumes of the 1960s. 

In 1966, Wright was appointed as a teacher at Hunter College. He remarried a year later to sculptor Edith Anne Crunk, and she became the source of inspiration for many of his later poems. His fourth volume of poetry won him the most prestigious award of his career. Wright's 1971 'Collected Poems,' funded by a Rockefeller Foundation grant, earned him the 'Pulitzer Prize' in Poetry in 1972.

'The Branch Will Not Break'

 Wright's third book, The Branch Will Not Break, was first published in 1963 and marked a considerable break from his two prior volumes, which were both formalists in style. In loose and open lines, his new work included a striking mix of meticulous detail and unexpected jumps of thought and form. The Branch Will Not Break foreshadowed a shift in poetry toward experimental free verse, which critics could only dismiss as "surrealistic" at the time.

Influenced by his tutors at the University of Washington, Stanley Kunitz, and Theodore Roethke, as well as his increasing connection with Robert Bly, Write wrote beautiful and daring poems in The Branch Will Not Break

The Branch Will Not Break's title appears to reveal Wright's spiritual and mental state at the time of its composition. Throughout his career, he has had to deal with the pressures and difficulties of modern life. In the poem he was demonstrating his toughness: no matter how much strain he was put under, he could handle it, as if determined to show that his primary theme of death and life, pain and love, was more than just a religious wish.

In his 1963 collection The Branch Will Not Break, James Wright included ‘A Blessing.' This is one of his most well-known and studied poems. The central story of 'A Blessing' is based on a personal memory of Wright's. He described a trip with his friend and fellow poet Robert Bly, including a stop off the highway to observe horses, just as the poem's language suggests. The transcendent moment at the end of the poem is not unique to Wright, but is applicable to everyone, regardless of their location or time. This kind of connection with nature is something that everybody may have.

'Two Citizens'

Following the success of Collected Poems, Wright published Two Citizens (1973), a collection of 31 poems about his European travels, childhood in America, and love for his wife.

Two Citizens is a collection of forthright remarks with dubious contexts, but with a decidedly American tone. The incoherency of "Two Citizens" is indignant and protective. Wright rejects the rigors of wholeness as well as their pacifications. He twirls around in his poetry like a cocoon, but he doesn't want to break free, doesn't desire "distance"

'Shall We Gather at the River'

In another poem collection, Shall We Gather at the River (1968), Wright depicted the Ohio River Valley. The young midwestern poet's poetry has prophetic messages about life's dullness and man's paradoxical fear of death.

Other Works

Wright's works and poems contained descriptions, depictions, and narration of his native place and the town he grew up. It was seen in his works 'Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry' and 'Ohio,' which had the reflection of his home state of Ohio with portrayal on mill towns, football stadiums, and heroes' dreams. In another poem collection, 'Shall We Gather at the River' (1968), Wright depicted the Ohio River Valley. 

Wright continued to compose and publish poetry until his death from cancer in 1980. In 1982, Anne gathered her husband's friends and colleagues to edit and publish James Wright's final work, 'This Journey.'

Selected poems

In 2005, a book entitled Selected Poem by James Wright was published. As James Wright spoke to the tremendous melancholy and hope that are inextricably linked to the imagery of America: its rail yards, rivers, cities, and formerly huge natural beauty more than any other poet of his generation. Wright wrote poetry of tremendous sympathy for society's alienated and outcast figures, as well as impassioned awe at nature's curative power, in what he considered his "Ohioan" voice.

Selected Poems fills a big void in Wright's bibliography: an approachable, well-chosen book that will appeal to both longstanding fans and newcomers to his work. Selected Poems is a personal, highly thought compilation of work including pieces picked from all of Wright's books, edited and with an introduction by Wright's widow, Anne, and his close friend, poet Robert Bly, who also contributed an introduction. It's a long-overdue—and much-needed—review of a poet whose life and work spanned the spectrum of American life.

Personal Life

In 1952, Wright married his first wife, Liberty Kardules, after his graduation, with whom he had two children. Wright faced a number of challenges, including a bad first marriage that ended in a financially and spiritually devastating divorce; his forced separation from his two sons; the difficulty of securing stable academic employment; and, perhaps most damagingly, his lifelong struggle with alcoholism, which led him in his later years to be institutionalized.

After a year as a professor at Hunter College, Wright met Edith Anne Runk and married her in 1967. The couple moved to New York, where Wright cut down on his drinking habit with the help of his new wife. The duo led a nomadic life traveling from hotel to hotel to write poetry and have fun. Wright, however, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer after developing a sore throat in 1979. On March 25, 1980, Wright passed away.

'James Wright: A Life in Poetry'

In December 2017, Jonathan Blunk's 'James Wright: A Life in Poetry' was published on the 90th anniversary of his birth. It was the definitive, accepted, and long-awaited biography. Blunk revealed a fascinating tale that had been little known until now. He portrayed how a young boy from a poor family in Ohio stole the show and became a 'Pulitzer Prize' winner and one of the most influential American poets of the twentieth century. 

For this, Blunk was given unique and complete access to Wright's estate, including the extensive paper archives containing letters, personal journals, poems, and translations that Wright had left behind.

Over the last three decades, Blunk had conducted over 240 interviews with Wright's family, relatives, teachers, and colleagues. Each of these interviews was captured by Blunk, and a digital archive was created to preserve Wright's memories. 

Jonathan Blunk is a radio editor, an author, a critic, and an essayist. His work has appeared in publications such as The Country, Poets & Authors, The Georgia Review, and others. He helped with the editing of James Wright's selected letters, 'A Wild Perfection.'

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