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e. e. cummings: A Life

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  333 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
From the author of American Bloomsbury, Louisa May Alcott, and Home Before Dark, a major reassessment of the life and work of the novelist, painter, and playwright considered to be one of America’s preeminent twentieth-century poets. At the time of his death in 1962, at age sixty-eight, he was, after Robert Frost, the most widely read poet in the United States.

E. E. Cummin
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2014)
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Jan 28, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, poetry
...I value freedom; and have never expected freedom to be anything less than indecent.
e.e. cummings

E.E. Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever is a biography of the American poet, Cheever is a graduate of Brown University, a Guggenheim Fellow, and director of the board of the Yaddo Corporation. She currently teaches in the MFA program at Bennington College and the New School. Cheever is the author of over a dozen books, including American Bloomsbury.

The book is short for a biography of a man with a
Jan 26, 2014 Elyse rated it liked it
Shelves: first-read
I'm glad the author included this e.e. communings poem. I think I had it memorized in High School! :)

may I feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he
it's fun said she

(may I touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she

(let's go said he
not to far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)

may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she

may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing
Mark Flowers
Oct 03, 2013 Mark Flowers rated it liked it
A fair enough biography, but with some qualms:

1) possibly because Cheever herself is the daughter of a famous writer, she seems a bit more hung up on Cummings's daughter than seems strictly necessary

2) she makes a couple of waves at addressing Cummings's alleged anti-Semitism, but never really grapples with it in any prolonged way

3) building off 2, she makes a couple of excellent forays into laying bare the mechanics of writing a biography, but only a couple--I'd have preferred either a more th
Patrick Sprunger
True to it's title, E. E. Cummings: A Life shows the life of America's first modernist in all its banality. Readers gravitate toward biography partly for this precise reason: it reassures us that our lives are not so different than those of our favorite personalities by demonstrating how their lives were not so different from our own. In many ways, Cummings needs this kind of treatment, because he was not only the first American modernist, he was - arguably - the only American modernist. His app ...more
James Murphy
Feb 07, 2015 James Murphy rated it really liked it
When we begin this biography of E. E. Cummings we're aware that Susan Cheever knew him through her father, John. The opening is fascinating as she tells of the night in 1958 she met him following a poetry reading. She sat in the back seat and studied him while her father drove Cummings from the reading in Westchester, at Susan's school, to his home in Patchin Place in Greenwich Village. Her portrait is of a puckish and likable man.

It's unfortunate that what looks at first to be an intimate book
Jan 10, 2014 LibraryReads rated it it was amazing
“Cummings is a pivotal figure in the creation of modern verse, and Cheever conveys his journey with color, warmth, and understanding, especially his imprisonment in France during the First World War, his father’s death and his final reunion with his daughter. She leaves the reader with only one wish: to be a fly on the wall while the poet held forth to his friends.”

Linda Jeffries-Summers, Howard County Library, Columbia, MD
Thomas Armstrong
Aug 27, 2014 Thomas Armstrong rated it really liked it
This was a special treat coming from the daughter of author John Cheever, and provided an insider's view of the poet. I'd just read The Enormous Room, and enjoyed learning about the back-story of Cumming's involvement in WWI. I was initially dismayed to learn about Cumming's anti-communist leanings (since he seemed tailor-made for the liberal's attitude - or as William James might have put it, he seemed ''tender minded'' rather than ''tough minded''). But then I learned in the book about his ...more
Aug 25, 2016 Louise rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, writers
Susan Cheever does an adequate job of outlining the life of E.E. Cummings, but her attempt at interpretation falls short (no pun intended for these 190 pages).

The portrait Cheever draws of this modern poet is belied by the very actions she reports. The biggest gap in words and deeds are the numerous references to his great love for his daughter, Nancy. An example of this great love is that when her mother leaves him, Cummings doesn’t use the gun he procures (to kill the mother, the soon to be st
Jun 18, 2014 Myles rated it it was ok
Though I've never done justice to his poetry, for the most part simply scanning it now and then, E.E. Cummings as author of The Enormous Room has had a profound influence on my life. I would have likely have still studied history without ever following my friends advice by picking it up, but Cummings busted a lot of my preconceived notions about war and America and the whole progress of Western Civilization in the 20th century.

It's safe to presume that everybody has an idea of who E.E. Cummings
Jerry Delaney
Aug 27, 2014 Jerry Delaney rated it it was ok
Perhaps we shouldn't read biographies of artists we admire. It can make it difficult to then read the poems without a veil of distaste getting in the way.

Cheever tells us cummings wasn't irresponsible he just loved the innocence of childhood. Yes, and he was irresponsible. And anti-Semitic. And he was a bohemian who wanted to shake off the rigidity of the Cambridge society he grew up in. But he borrowed money from his mother constantly. Cheever portrays him as the victim in his relationship with
Jun 17, 2014 GraceAnne rated it really liked it
Susan Cheever is such a graceful writer, and she makes the illimitable Estlin Cummings truly come alive. I have loved his poetry all my life, and often visited Patchin Place and thought of his words. I was surprised, however, by two things, and almost gave it only three stars in consequence. One was an over-reliance in Freudian psychology in almost every aspect. That is a biographer's prerogative of course, but I did not like it. The other was a multiple repetition of a number of phrases, which ...more
Jun 13, 2014 Catherine rated it liked it
I really enjoyed reading about ee's influences: his uber-yankee upbringing, the mountains of New Hampshire, the joys of Paris, the chaos of Greenwich Village. Cheever also does a decent job tying certain milestones in his life to key poems, which give them an additional and pleasing dimension. most of all the book is a good reminder of how amazing the 1920s and 30s were for Anglo-American literature. immediately I want to re-read William Carlos Williams and all those guys again.
May 15, 2014 Alice rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that my book club had a lively, thoughtful discussion about it. Three stars because it piqued my interest in Cummings and his world, but not a really good or well written biography. Repetitious and at times condescending to the reader. Doesn't really deal with his anti-semitism or his sexuality. Or convey why he is the great poet Cheever thinks he is. Enjoyed the poetry selections and loved the photos.
Lloyd Fassett
Jun 29, 2014 Lloyd Fassett marked it as to-read
read a very good excerpt in Feb 2014 Vanity Fair magazine

6/29/14 - author is printed in the NYTs about the accident that killed his father, NYTimes: How to Solve an 88-Year-Old Literary Mystery
Dec 14, 2014 Maggie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
my favorite poet. and a thoroughly engaging biography on him.
David Kinchen
Feb 19, 2014 David Kinchen rated it really liked it
BOOK REVIEW: 'E.E. Cummings: A Life': Susan Cheever Revisits a Controversial Figure in American Literature

The case could be made that Susan Cheever was fated to write about poet, artist, novelist and playwright E. E. Cummings (1894-1962), if only because of her meeting Cummings when she was 17 and unhappy in the private school she was attending.

She writes about meeting the older friend of her novelist father John Cheever in 1960 in "E.E. Cummings: A Life" (Pantheon, 240 pages, 18 pages of black
Jun 06, 2014 Rachel rated it really liked it
Susan Cheever begins this most recent exploration into Edward Estlin Cumming's life with a first-hand account of meeting the poet as a young student, successfully introducing and shaping the biography with her heart-felt and intimate view. The author is inspired by E.E., he gives her advice, and ultimately this interaction helps shape a small part of her life. That slightly-biased view of the verbally-acrobatic poet is a running thread throughout Cheever's new title. She handles Cummings' life ...more
May 04, 2015 Gavin rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed getting to know e.e. cummings better, and Susan Cheever does a great job showing us behind the curtain. I always find it fascinating when authors meet their subjects outside of writing a biography and Susan did as Cummings spoke at her high school 1958. Further, Susan is the daughter of John Cheever, who had met Cummings early in his career. This makes for a great introduction as the two old friends reunite and we see how Susan first came about her interest. Not only that, but ...more
May 30, 2016 BurntOrangeOwl rated it really liked it
Picked it up at the library after seeing a wonderful interview with author and her brother on TV. Was in the market for a role model in my late middle-age. Cummings is not one i'd recommend. Sure he was antisemitic, but who wasn't? I respect the dissenter in him and am inspired now to read "The Enormous Room" and hear recordings of him reading. Cheever has written a very sympathetic biography, but it is still possible to come away thinking that Cummings was a jackass for much of his life, a ...more
Carl Williams
Jan 01, 2015 Carl Williams rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
When I was in college, I was enthralled with Cummings’ poetry, then for a long time I found it much less interesting. But in the past few years some interest has been rekindled. That is a pattern, apparently, of many regarding his poetry. This is a short, well written, profile of Cummings, that might on one hand lead to reading a more in depth biography, might turn the reader toward Cummings’ poetry, or both. Cummings began life privileged—the curious consummate “good boy” and grew into one of ...more
Jul 22, 2014 Ela added it
Shelves: biography
Susan Cheever offers a sensitive, well-written account of e.e.cummings's life. At under two hundred pages, the book is rather short as biographies go, which makes it a great introduction to the poet. Cheever does an excellent job of contextualizing cummings's work, and it is clear that she approaches her subject with empathy and honesty: not quick to judge, she refuses to occupy a position of knowledge, and reveals some of the biographer's moral dilemmas in addressing touchy issues such as the ...more
Faith Oglesby
Aug 09, 2014 Faith Oglesby rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys poetry
Shelves: biographies
I'm on pg. 143 and almost finished reading e.e. cummings biography. Have enjoyed reading about e.e. cummings biography for several reasons. One is because I like his poetry. This biography gave a few examples of Cumming's writings about different things in life and I could see how Cummings could express some of lifes' happenings in a way with poetry that expressed his thoughts/feelings and opinions. Sure, at times I thought Cummings poetry was very deep; but it helped that the author of the book ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I've always been a huge e.e. cummings fan but haven't read much about his life since my college days. Cheevers' biography was interesting and apparently well-researched. I guess she and her editors made the choice to avoid foot- or endnotes to broaden the book's appeal, but I for one would have loved to see her document all the sources for her various assertions and statements about "character" motivations/feelings/actions along the way. I was frustrated by how she wove the threads of Cummings' ...more
Jul 07, 2014 Lynn rated it really liked it
Although Cummings was my favorite poet in high school and beyond and I even set three of his poems to music (buffalo bills, no time ago, and lily has a rose), and a large volume of his poetry holds an honored place in my library, I've never know much of anything at all about the man personally. Now I do, and it was interesting to read. For instance, I never knew that he had also been a painter. How did I miss that fact? Nor that he was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few blocks ...more
Daniel Klawitter
Jun 21, 2015 Daniel Klawitter rated it really liked it
"I am someone who proudly and humbly affirms that love is the mystery-of-mysteries, and that nothing measurable matters 'a very good God damn': that 'an artist, a man, a failure' is no mere whenfully accreting mechanism, but a givingly eternal complexity...whose only happiness is to transcend himself, whose every agony is to grow." ---Cummings, Harvard Lecture, Oct. 1952.

This book is a wonderfully written and absorbing biography of that most lyrical and playful of the modernist American poets, e
Larry Smith
Feb 17, 2015 Larry Smith rated it really liked it
Susan Cheever does a fine job, from the inside so to speak, as she and her father John Cheever had met and knew E.E. Cummings. Yet she goes way back into the family heritage as Boston and Cambridge Brahmins and Unitarian liberals around Harvard. Cummings himself was a bright star of Harvard till he turned on its conservative and repression practices. Cummings had a big, long life ahead of him, some wild rebellion, war years, artistic struggles, some failed relationships, and a beautiful love ...more
William Goodhart
Apr 28, 2014 William Goodhart rated it really liked it
I heard Susan Cheever speak about this book at the Society Library a few weeks ago. I wanted to read this because he, and Ms Cheever's father, were both figures in the Village, and I have felt Cummings has been under-valued.

The book begins with an personal story of her father, herself, and Cummings, that serves as a grounding and positive reference point throughout the book that both calms one as you read of the trials in his life, knowing that he got through them, just as it adds suspense as y
Rachel Jones
Sep 20, 2014 Rachel Jones rated it liked it
Shelves: readwomen2014
e.e. cummings is the only poet I really like (besides Whitman, of course), so it's surprising that it took me this long to read a bio of him. This book could have been so much better though....there were numerous typos, including 2 pretty glaring ones in an actual poem of cummings's and a direct quote from a letter addressed to cummings. The timeline was kinda screwy, with a lot of jumping back and forth between dates and tons of repeated facts and observations, as if the author couldn't trust ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Rod rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't know I wanted to read about the life of e.e. cummings until I saw this book by Susan Cheever and, because I've enjoyed other books by her, and because I've been a fan from afar of cummings' poetry (and loved his novel, The Enormous Room), I dove in. I enjoyed it. Not Cheever's best (I didn't feel quite the fire as when she was writing about Bill W. or the Transcendentalists), but engrossing, nonetheless. Cummings' story is sadder than I would have guessed (guesses based on nothing in ...more
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Reading Along Wit...: Susan Cheever, "e.e. cummings: A Life" 1 2 Dec 29, 2014 05:19AM  
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