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Elizabeth Bishop's Brazil

Bethany Hicok

BUY Cloth · 192 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938547 · $59.50 · Apr 2016
BUY Paper · 192 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938530 · $24.50 · Apr 2016
BUY Ebook · 192 pp. · ISBN 9780813938554 · $24.50 · Apr 2016

When the American poet Elizabeth Bishop arrived in Brazil in 1951 at the age of forty, she had not planned to stay, but her love affair with the Brazilian aristocrat Lota de Macedo Soares and with the country itself set her on another course, and Brazil became her home for nearly two decades. In this groundbreaking new study, Bethany Hicok offers Bishop’s readers the most comprehensive study to date on the transformative impact of Brazil on the poet’s life and art. Based on extensive archival research and travel, Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil argues that the whole shape of Bishop’s writing career shifted in response to Brazil, taking on historical, political, linguistic, and cultural dimensions that would have been inconceivable without her immersion in this vibrant South American culture.

Hicok reveals the mid-century Brazil that Bishop encountered--its extremes of wealth and poverty, its spectacular topography, its language, literature, and people--and examines the Brazilian class structures that placed Bishop and Macedo Soares at the center of the country’s political and cultural power brokers. We watch Bishop develop a political poetry of engagement against the backdrop of America’s Cold War policies and Brazil’s political revolutions. Hicok also offers the first comprehensive evaluation of Bishop’s translations of Brazilian writers and their influence on her own work. Drawing on archival sources that include Bishop’s unpublished travel writings and providing provocative new readings of the poetry, Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil is a long-overdue exploration of a pivotal phase in this great poet’s life and work.


Hicok is highly successful in bringing together for the first time the threads of a discussion that has informed scholarly, biographical, and creative work on Bishop for decades: the importance of Brazil to the poet’s work. Hicok’s welcome contribution is to synthesize, integrate, and more fully develop that discussion than has been attempted to date.

Neil Besner, University of Winnipeg, translator of Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares

Hicok animates the rich complexity of Bishop’s years in Brazil, living among the cultural elite during a period of tumultuous political change and, later, personal urgency, evincing the ways in which Brazilian literature and politics informed Bishop’s poetry. It is a book that enables Bishop scholars and readers alike to see, vividly, Brazil’s place in Bishop’s imaginary.

Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature

Elizabeth Bishop's Brazil represents a significant development in Bishop studies. It is a dliigently researched work that adds much to the analysis of Bishop's Brazilian poems and translations.... The book greatly extends our knowledge of Bishop's time in Brazil, and the reverberations this had on her work, whilst also proving a useful resource for scholars who are interested in the wealth of Brazilian criticism on Bishop.

Journal of American Studies

Bethany Hicok’s exceptionally readable book puts the "intercultural import-export" business of Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil into newly legible shape. Drawing on prose drafts still in the archives as well as on the recently published verse and prose, and following the lead of critics such as George Monteiro, Elizabeth Neely, and Maria Lúcia Milléo Martins, Hicok makes some sharp new discoveries.

American Literary History

Bethany Hicok’s Elizabeth Bishop’s Brazil... enhance[s] our understanding of the cultural circumstances and technical theater behind Bishop’s air of inevitability—the uncanny sense, which Bishop readers often have, that her finished poem could not have been written any other way without diminishing its power.... [I]n ground-breaking analyses of significant aspects of Bishop’s art, [ Elizabeth Bishop in the Twenty-First Century] invite[s] us to extend, yet again, our understanding and our nomenclature.

Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature

About the Author(s): 

Bethany Hicok, Lecturer of English at Williams College, is the author of Degrees of Freedom: American Women Poets and the Women’s College, 1905-1955 and coeditor (with Angus Cleghorn and Thomas Travisano) of Elizabeth Bishop in the Twenty-First Century: Reading the New Editions (Virginia).

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