UPDATED Dec. 1: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED.
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet John Ashbery to Read at Smith
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Smith College will present a reading by poet John Ashbery at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, in Theatre 14, Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts. (Please note the change of venue from previous publicity.) The reading is free and open to the public.
Ashbery has received nearly every major writing award the literary world has to offer, and his work has been translated into more than 25 languages. Author of 20 poetry collections, as well as plays, fiction, translations and art criticism, he has long defied any singular artistic identity, “juggling the infinite possibilities of genre,” as critic Helen Vendler said.
Ashbery first met critical acclaim with his 1956 collection “Some Trees,” which was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series. Perhaps his most famous work is 1975’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” which the New York Times noted for its “breathtaking freshness and adventure in which dazzling orchestrations of language open up whole areas of consciousness no other American poet has even begun to explore.” The book received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. His most recent volume, “Planisphere,” was praised by Boston Phoenix as “repetitive…in the way that a beach is repetitive with sand, or the night sky is repetitive with stars.”
Ashbery describes himself as “a harebrained, homegrown surrealist whose poetry defies even the rules and logic of Surrealism.” With Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara, among others, Ashbery was part of the New York School, an informal group of poets active in the 1950s and 60s, whose work is heavily influenced by surrealism, modernism and abstract expressionism. Rather than writing poems representative of experiences, the group aimed to write poems that are experiences in and of themselves.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Ashbery spent his high school years at Deerfield Academy, later attending Harvard University, where he befriended Koch and O’Hara, and went on to earn a master’s degree in French literature from Columbia University. A two-time Fulbright scholar, he lived in Paris for a decade, where he wrote art criticism, returning to New York and continuing to work for ArtNews, where he served as executive editor until the magazine was sold in 1972. His teaching began with a long stint as co-director of the MFA program in creative writing at Brooklyn College and included a year at Harvard as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry and nearly two decades at Bard College as the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature.
Ashbery has served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and poet laureate of New York. Among his innumerable awards and honors are a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, two Ingram Merrill Foundation grants, two Guggenheim fellowships, the Bollingen Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, The Nation magazine’s Lenore Marshall Award and the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award. Retired now from teaching, Ashbery remains a prolific writer and an important presence in the literary world. He lives in New York with his partner, writer David Kermani.
Ashbery’s reading will be followed by a book sale and signing. For further information, contact Michaela Cahillane in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368.
For disability access information or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail ODS@smith.edu. All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.