A complete collection of Robert Lowell’s autobiographical prose, from unpublished writings about his youth to reflections on the triumphs and confusions of his adult life.
Robert Lowell's Memoirs is an unprecedented literary discovery: the manuscript of Lowell’s lyrical evocation of his childhood, which was written in the 1950s and has remained unpublished until now. Meticulously edited by Steven Gould Axelrod and Grzegorz Kosc, it serves as a precursor or companion to his groundbreaking book of poems Life Studies, which signaled a radically new prose-inflected direction in his work, and indeed in American poetry.
Memoirs also includes intense depictions of Lowell’s mental illness and his determined efforts to recover. It concludes with Lowell’s reminiscences of other writers, among them T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Hannah Arendt, and Sylvia Plath. Memoirs demonstrates Lowell’s expansive gifts as a prose stylist and his powers of introspection and observation. It provides striking new evidence of the range and brilliance of Lowell’s achievement.
Includes black-and-white photographs
About the Author
Robert Lowell (1917–1977) was the renowned and pathbreaking author of many leading works in American poetry, including Life Studies (FSG, 1959), For the Union Dead (FSG, 1964), and Day by Day (FSG, 1977).
Steven Gould Axelrod is Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, USA. He is co-editor of The New Anthology of American Poetry: Volumes 1-3 (2002-2012), editor of Robert Lowell's Memoirs (2019) and a former President of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Association (2004-6).
“[Memoirs is] densely yet nimbly written, and you sense Lowell’s judgment and discrimination in every paragraph . . . Lowell freshens the eye . . . This book’s editors, Steven Gould Axelrod and Grzegorz Kosc, silently and deftly amend, in their footnotes, Lowell’s many small errors of fact, and point out where he seems to have invented characters.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Excellent reading . . . Lowell was always a capable prose writer, but the language on display in this childhood memoir is a good deal more than that . . . Taken as a whole, ‘My Autobiography’ is nothing less than a treasure in the literary memoir genre. One might well wonder if it becomes, over time, the piece of writing Lowell is best remembered for.” —August Kleinzahler, The New York Times Book Review
"Aside from the sheer beauty of the writing . . . the poet’s naked confrontation of his own pain, the honesty with which he portrays a family dynamic, should strike any reader to the heart . . . [Memoirs is] proof that Lowell remains an artist for the present moment." —Erica Wagner, Financial Times (UK)
"In an exceptionally gifted generation of American poets, Robert Lowell was, in his lifetime, number one . . . Memoirs publishes, mostly for the first time, the prose Lowell composed–chiefly in two spells between 1954 and 1957–and allows the reader to see it not only as origin story for the poems, but as a graceful, stately work in its own right." –Declan Ryan, The Observer
“[Memoirs] includes an unpublished gem: “My Autobiography”, a 150-page memoir composed in the years before he began work on Life Studies, his landmark volume of poems from 1959 . . . Vivid . . . Lowell seems reconciled to the idea of art being as necessarily contradictory and compulsive as the artist.” —Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, The Guardian
"It is the candour of [Lowell's] confession, the satiric self-critique of his earlier work, that continues to draw us to this astonishing body of poetry." —Marjorie Perloff, The Times Literary Supplement
"A good summation of the boy, the poet and the man . . . We might say of him what he said of his dearest friend, Randall Jarrell, that he was a 'noble, difficult, and beautiful soul.' And a great poet." —John Banville, The Independent (UK)
“Biting observations wrapped in elegant phrases . . . These writings give us added glimpses into the life of a poet who made a new art form out of baring the soul, even while expertly keeping his words measured and precise.” —Robert Weibezahl, BookPage
"Excellently edited . . . Memoirs, an unexpected gift, casts new light on his privileged and crippling background, his precarious life as a boy and bipolar man, his impressive intellect and shrewd insights." —Jeffrey Meyers, The Article
“Full of subtle, witty, and slightly off-kilter evocations of people, psychotic breaks, and poetry. Lowell’s rich language and startling perceptiveness are nothing short of captivating.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“[Robert Lowell’s] memoirs offer an open and honest account of what it was to grow up with his brain and his illness. Memoirs is predominantly made up of unpublished childhood memories that demonstrate who Robert Lowell will become, as well as who he was: a child in pain, trying to find a way forward, a way to heal. Writing may not have cured all, but it did allow us to experience the great work of someone who had been to the darkest places and back and lived to tell us of it.” —Julia Hass , Lit Hub
“[Memoirs] vividly show[s] how a poet’s beginnings shape his end.” —Michael Knox Beran, Air Mail
"Highly detailed, lucid, and precise, Lowell's writing is witty, sarcastic, and revealing." —Kirkus Reviews