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Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  209 ratings  ·  49 reviews
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a brilliantly rendered life of one of our most admired American poets.

Since her death in 1979, Elizabeth Bishop, who published only one hundred poems in her lifetime, has become one of America’s most revered poets. And yet—painfully shy and living out of public view in far-flung locations like Key West and Brazil—she has never been see
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  209 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Megan Marshall's biography of Bishop is wonderful. Marshall fits in an enormous amount of detail concerning Bishops private and professional life yet the text flows without feeling rushed. She's deft at fitting key key snippets of each poem seldom including the entire work but enough to illustrate the point she's highlighting. I did feel drawn to consulting my ecopy of Bishop's Poems in but only for the pleasure of reading more rather than there not being enough included in this biography.

James Murphy
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Megan Marshall has written a beautiful combination of personal memoir and biography of Elizabeth Bishop. She was a student of Bishop's during the time of her lecturing at Harvard and also studied under Bishop's close friend Robert Lowell as well as Robert Fitzgerald, lovingly recollected here. She was unsuccessful in Bishop's course and turned away from poetry to eventually become an accomplished biographer, evidenced by her earlier Pulitzer Prize-winning Margaret Fuller: A New American Life and ...more
Sarah Schulman
Although the story of Elisabeth Bishop is a tragic one on many levels, this is a fun read because of the detail of her emotional and sexual relationships with women- something we rarely have a chance to read about. Despite drinking away much of her life, she was repeatedly able to find women lovers to take care of her: rich when necessary, and young when she had enough money- devoted enough to organize their lives around her, and to self-destruct in reaction to her.

The author cites very little o
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really absorbing account of Bishop's life, with effective, attentive references to her poems. I'm not completely convinced that the author's own biographical info all belongs here, and the title does not feel representative of the work, though I really admire the bio's overall sestina-structure--an elegant, innovative choice.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent biography about a difficult person who wrote deeply personal but simultaneously guarded poems that won her the Pulitzer and many other accolades.

I greatly admired biographer Megan Marshall's work here, but after her subject's second infidelity to her long-time partner, I realized I didn't like Elizabeth herself much. She seemed to me so selfish, and when I looked back in the book for instances of generosity, I couldn't find any. She was always looking for others to take care of her,
A. G.
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Megan Marshall the author of 'Elizabeth Bishop: a miracle for breakfast' had been a Bishop student for a brief time, and had discovered some new letters Bishop had written to her psychiatrist and her female lovers,which had opted her to write a new biography on her. But unfortunately she has, more or less, only recycled all the materials written ever since on Bishop, and by Bishop herself.
I expected and preferred a deeper study and focus on Bishop’s works as an artist.Actually I do not care how
Liz Gray
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A phenomenal biography of Elizabeth Bishop, written by one of the best biographers writing today. Margaret Marshall tells Bishop's story using a wealth of resources, including recently released letters from lovers and a psychiatrist, and interleaves her subject's story with her own growth as a woman and a scholar. The book uses the six words that end the lines of Bishop's sestina, "A Miracle for Breakfast," as its organizing principle, to marvelous effect. An absolutely fantastic book.
Larry Smith
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Image of Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast
Megan Marshall
Release Date:
February 6, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Reviewed by:
Larry Smith

“a delight as well as a revelation.”

Elizabeth Bishop (1911–1979), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Consultant for Poetry for the Library of Congress (what became Poet Laureate) and other poetry honors, is presented here by one of her former students, author Megan Marshall, in this fres
Ann Cefola
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every bio I've ever read about Bishop has left me angry...why didn't she "write more, drink less" as she promised so many intimate partners and friends? Upon finishing Miracle for Breakfast, I am satisfied Elizabeth Bishop produced as much as she was meant to--expertly exercising her craft with discretion and discernment. Megan Marshall has written a book that gives new emotional insights into the Bishop canon, linking it to the poet's painful childhood as an orphan and her adult search for endu ...more
Patti K
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
A 2017 fascinating biography of the great poet Bishop written by
a former college student who attended her writing course at Harvard.
A lot of the information has already been covered, but this account
was a very intimate view of the poet's adventurous life and career.
I was enchanted by her reserve as well as her passions. Recommend.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I didn't want this biography to end. Such a compelling and endearingly flawed poet is Miss Bishop. While the story of the author's relationship with her teacher seemed tangential, by the end she brings the two parts to an interesting resolution.

I wanted to have the books of poems to
refer to while reading this, and my next order is to have them.

Miss Bishop's life is a life of art, of love, and of loss, and it's at the intersection of these gifts that creates the poetry.
Leah Braswell
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hit all the right notes for me. I was completely absorbed. Marshall is an adept biographer. I was as amazed with her writing and depth of research as I was with Elizabeth's rich ljfe.
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
I wasn’t particularly interested in 20th century poetry before I picked this up, but I was fascinated and even deeply moved by Marshall’s two earlier biographies of 19th century women involved in New England’s Transcendentalist movement, so I hoped I would enjoy this one too. I did. I found Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast just as compelling as Marshall’s books on Margaret Fuller and the Peabody sisters, and as an added bonus it’s given me an unexpected newfound love of poetry.

The poem
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Bishop's remarkable life is a fascinating and frequently sad tale. The telling here is punctuated with frequent quotes from letters, making Bishop more present.

I find the inclusion of brief autobiographical chapters by the author disappointing and distracting. By bringing in her own brief connection to Bishop, the author adds a tone to the biography that is gossipy and/or self indulgent.
Phi Beta Kappa Authors
Megan Marshall
ΦBK, Harvard College, 1977

Shortlisted for the ΦBK Christian Gauss Award, 2018

From the publisher: From a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a brilliantly rendered life of one of our most admired American poets.

Since her death in 1979, Elizabeth Bishop, who published only one hundred poems in her lifetime, has become one of America’s most revered poets. And yet—painfully shy and living out of public view in far-flung locations like Key West and Brazil—she has never been seen so ful
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very much enjoyed this biography of a poet I love so much. How did I not know she was gay? Enjoyed the author's story, even as I wasn't sure it worked in overlay with Bishop's, despite the connections. Loved this coterie of brilliant, crazed women of the twentieth century--how did they drink so much? Helped me understand Bishop's poetry a bit more--it has always drawn me without being able to understand why. Left the book with so many questions despite enjoying it: How did she write her poetry ( ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Marshall's work of creative non-fiction takes the readers on the significance of American poet Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop's life is not only reflected in her poetry, as Marshall establishes, but also in her life through her relationships with the artistic, literary, and social community. I read this book as one of the 2017 new releases for my library's summer reading incentive program. This book was an enticing read. As an undergraduate, I read Bishop's poetry, especially "The Moose," which was th ...more
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The more we get to know Elizabeth Bishop through this empathetic and carefully edited biography, the more human she becomes. Her best poems (which are the majority of them) needed the perspective of age, loss, and repeated heartbreak. If you're looking for a wholly sympathetic protagonist, you'll find her elsewhere. Bishop was busy losing continents, cheating on lovers, and falling down drunk. The newer conventional wisdom is that the genius creates despite hardships rather than because of them. ...more
Mary Warnement
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: bedside, biography, poetry
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Therese Quigley
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So refreshing to read about a woman who considered herself a person and a poet first. To steadfastly hold onto that identity while on collage campuses during the '60's and '70's, while the feminist movement gained traction, could not have been easy! I enjoyed reading about her writing process and the exquisite poems she fashioned. The life and adventures she chose, esp. as a single woman, required bravery and I'm sure inspired admiration from many of her contemporaries. Marshall has done a remar ...more
Deborah Beatriz Blum
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this biography that fleshes out the complicated life of the poet Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop was raised between two worlds — an upper class New England household and the simple world of her Nova Scotia grandparents. The author has done a great job in her choice of quotes that bring Bishop to life. I especially like the way that Marshall explains the challenge of living as a Lesbian during a period of history when same sex relationships were taboo. Highly recommend.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read a bio of Robert Lowell a while back and knew that Elizabeth Bishop was his great friend so wanted to know a bit more about her and her scholarship. I particularly like bios of poets and this one provided a lot of insights into the astonishing work of poets and the circumstances and drive that brings them to the profession. This book provides important and valuable insights and the author of this bio is a genius at capturing this poet's life.
Nicola Pierce
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I knew little about Bishop and was delighted to discover this biography about her. It's very well-written and researched but I am fighting a desire to snipe at Marshall's inclusion of her own story which is not as interesting when compared to Bishop's. The thing about telling part of your own story is that you leave out lots so that what is left, or presented, feels posed. At the same time, the nosy part of me wonders who the famous writer is that she - Marshall - had an affair with.
Beth Whitney
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reading Elizabeth Bishop's poetry has been on my list to do for many years now, but thanks to Megan Marshall I have now found a key to entering EB's extraordinary poetic world. The bio, with its unusual interleaving of Marshall's own experience, brought Bishop, with all her sorrows, loves, and genius, very much to life. I referred to the poems whenever they were mentioned in the bio. To add the poems to the reading of the bio deepened the experience and has led me to Bishop's collected prose, th ...more
Gayla Bassham
Really excellent. The biography itself is fascinating, but the interludes in which the author describes her undergraduate experience with Elizabeth Bishop as a professor are even more interesting (and better written).
Dana Tuss
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about an interesting poet. I didn’t fall in love with Elizabeth Bishop or her poetry. And perhaps the author was a bit too much of a cheerleader to see the redundancies. Just seemed the same bad decisions made decade after decade. But I was glad I now know about her work and life.
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A satisfying biography of Bishop. At times, it felt like Marshall was glossing over some of the more intense (and intensely interesting) moments in Bishop's life, particularly Lota's suicide. Nonetheless, I would recommend to anyone who enjoys Bishop's poetry and/or biographies of writers.
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Solid biography of my favorite poet. I did think the poetic analysis was thin and reductive, though. Much better on the life than the poetry.
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book by Marshall - an excellent in-depth picture of one of American's great poets - and how both women overlapped in life.
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Little Miracles Again and Again. That's What Her Poems Are.

This is a charming biography with a personal touch that grows on you until in the end it all comes nicely together. Elizabeth Bishop is the one poet from her era who endures and endures because of her scrupulous ever honest particularity. Megan Marshall's biography tracking her own life ever so gently is a wonderful way to move into this poetry unique and true to itself.
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Megan Marshall is the author of The Peabody Sisters, which won the Francis Parkman Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography and memoir. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, and Slate. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEH fellowships, Marshall ...more
“Elizabeth Bishop wrote love poems, and poems about lovemaking, and one of the best poems ever written in English about the loss of love, but she had made her way through life as an orphan, a solitary. Reticence wasn’t the reason she’d become a poet of the self—of a singular “mind in action,” as she’d once described the effect she hoped to achieve in her poems. She had discovered early on, perhaps too early, that she was “an I . . . an Elizabeth”—and she’d treasured that painful, “unlikely” self-awareness ever since, knowing it was the same thing as her imagination.” 0 likes
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