Carolyn D. Wright

[C. D. Wright] (1949 / Mountain Home, Arkansas)

Biography of Carolyn D. Wright

Carolyn D. Wright poet

Carolyn D. "C. D." Wright (born January 6, 1949) is an American poet.

C. D. Wright was born in Mountain Home, Arkansas to a chancery judge and a court reporter. She earned a BA in French from Memphis State College (now the University of Memphis) in 1971 and briefly attended law school before leaving to pursue an MFA from the University of Arkansas, which she received in 1976. Her poetry thesis was titled Alla Breve Loving. In 1977 the publishing company founded by Frank Stanford, Lost Roads, published Wright's first collection, Room Rented by A Single Woman. After Stanford died in 1978, Wright took over Lost Roads, continuing the mission of publishing new poets and starting the practice of publishing translations. In 1979, she moved to San Francisco, where she met poet Forrest Gander. Wright and Gander married in 1983 and have a son, Brecht, and co-edited Lost Roads until 2005. In 1981, Wright lived in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico and completed her second book of poems, Translation of the Gospel Back into Tongues. In 1983 she moved to Providence, Rhode Island to teach writing at Brown University where she is now Israel J. Kapstein Professor of English. In 2013, Wright was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Stephen Burt has described her as an Elliptical Poet. while Joel Brouwer has said she "…belongs to a school of exactly one."

Wright's poetry is rooted in a sense of place and time and often employs distinct voices in dialogue, particularly those of the American South. Her work is formally inventive and often documentary in spirit, in the sense that it honors those whose stories or voices might be lost were it not for her writing. Her diction mixes high and low to surprising effect, and her range of reference is both broad and deep, including phrases from other languages, allusions to other poems, and pieces of conversation. Her books include precisely distilled lyrics such as those collected in Tremble as well as book-length poems beginning with Just Whistle, her first collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster.

In a 2001 interview with Kent Johnson, Wright said, "As to my own aesthetic associations / affiliations / sympathies: I have never belonged to a notable element of writers who identified with one another partly because I come from Arkansas, specifically that part of Arkansas known for its resistance-to-joining, a non-urban environment where readily identifiable groups and sub-groups are less likely to form." In the same interview, she states, "… The theoretically-driven San Francisco poets who were in cahoots with poets in New York and conversant with European vanguard movements — they provided me with a need to become critically aware of my back-home ways; sharpened me to a degree. I’m grateful for the exposure, the education. I am indebted to particular poets’ work from that point in time, but I am not an intellectual in the sense that qualifies or requires me to belong to a manifestoed-group. And of course one comes to take some pride in one's own outsider status."

Wright has published literary maps of both Rhode Island and Arkansas. Wright's later work includes String Light; Deepstep Come Shining, a book-length poem; and One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, another collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster. Her poems are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and many other anthologies. Her most recent book, One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010) mixes investigative journalism, history and poetry to explore homegrown civil rights incidents and the critical role her mentor, a brilliant and difficult woman, played in a little-known 1969 March Against Fear in her native Arkansas. Updates


Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don't get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I'd meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft.
Do not lie or lean on me. I'm still trying to find a job
for which a simple machine isn't better suited.

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