NNDC Member Kay Jamison's New Book, Setting the River on Fire, Receives Early Praise
The best-selling author of An Unquiet Mind now gives us a groundbreaking life of one of the major American poets of the twentieth century that is at the same time a fascinating study of the relationship between manic-depressive (bipolar) illness, creative genius, and character. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, Robert Lowell (1917-1977) put his manic-depressive illness into the public domain. Now Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison brings her expertise to bear on his story, illuminating the relationship between bipolar illness and creativity, and examining how Lowell’s illness and the treatment he received came to bear on his work. His New England roots, early breakdowns, marriages to three eminent writers, friendships with other poets, vivid presence as a teacher and writer refusing to give up in the face of mental illness–Jamison gives us Lowell’s life through a lens that focuses our understanding of the poet’s intense discipline, courage, and commitment to his art. Jamison had unprecedented access to Lowell’s medical records, as well as to previously unpublished drafts and fragments of poems, and was the first biographer to speak to his daughter. With this new material and a psychologist’s deep insight, Jamison delivers a bold, sympathetic account of a poet who was–both despite and because of mental illness–a passionate, original observer of the human condition. Click here to purchase Setting the River on Fire – shop using Amazon Smile and a portion of your purchase will be donated to support collaborative research at the NNDC.
“Finally, a book commensurate to the immensity that was Robert Lowell. This is the soul that fires the poetry and prose, the soul that his friends fell in love with. I’m happy that I’ve lived long enough to read it.” —Frank Bidart
“Robert Lowell was a constantly searching, restlessly inventive artist who courageously wrestled with bipolar illness all his life. Kay Jamison’s deeply considered, deeply empathetic reading of Lowell’s life and work gives us a revolutionary, richly nuanced way of understanding both a major writer’s career and the sources and processes of creativity itself. We needed this book.” —Jonathan Galassi
“A dazzling combination: the brilliant Robert Lowell read by the brilliant Kay Jamison, who writes a book for the ages: poignant, ambitious, and big-hearted, about friendship, history, and the mad dance of mind that Lowell faced with supreme courage, all the while producing some of the most haunting lyrics of the twentieth century. Jamison on Lowell: read it to learn, with humility, how to live.” —Brenda Wineapple
“Reading Setting the River on Fire, I felt I was keeping company with the man I knew, yet seeing him bathed in so many new lights that I realized how little I had actually known him. In this astonishingly multidimensional portrait of Robert Lowell, Jamison makes him live and breathe, and restores to him the grandeur he deserves. We can see her in him and him in her and, in the best sense, Setting the River on Fire turns out to be an exhilarating vicarious biography—something so rare as to be perhaps unique, a biographer fully inhabiting the life of her subject in a way that seems to the reader a life at once seen from a wise distance and felt intimately at first-hand. —Jonathan Raban
“Kay Jamison brings together meticulous research into the factual narrative of Lowell’s life, an immensely sophisticated ability to interpret his poetry, and a profound understanding of his mental illness and its effect on everything else about him. Written in prose that is often poetic and always acute, it is a poignant, terrifying, and thrilling examination of the complex relationship between genius and madness. It captures Lowell’s electrifying charm, his persistent elegance of thought, and the consuming chaos of his despair. It is one of the finest biographies I have read.” —Andrew Solomon