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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- John Ashberry
- Amiri Baraka
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Allen Ginsberg
- Joy Harjo
- Audre Lorde
- Sylvia Plath
- Adrienne Rich
- Gary Snyder
- James Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
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Authors: James Wright (1927-1980)

Federal Wire & Steel Co.'s Plant, Cleveland, Ohio
[9149] Anonymous, Federal Wire & Steel Co.'s Plant, Cleveland, Ohio (c. 1920), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection [LC-D4-72257 DLC].

James Wright Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
James Wright grew up in Martins Ferry, Ohio, a small midwestern town hit hard by the depression. Wright's father worked in a factory to make ends meet, and the financial hardships endured by the family influenced Wright deeply, as later evidenced by his poetry about the poor and marginalized in American society. Wright received his undergraduate degree from Kenyon College, a center for creative writing at the time led by John Crowe Ransom. Wright later served in the army during the American occupation of Japan. After returning from overseas, he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Washington, where he was a pupil of Theodore Roethke. After studying in Vienna on a Fulbright scholarship, Wright returned to the United States, where he has taught at universities and colleges across the country.

Wright's early poetry shares a sense of seriousness of subject matter characteristic of Thomas Hardy, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Robert Frost. Like Frost and Hardy, Wright focuses on outsiders in his poems--figures like escaped convicts, grieving widows, and convicted murderers. Many of his subjects also experience intense poverty, as "The Minneapolis Poem" suggests. Poems like "A Blessing" also illustrate Wright's affinity with nature, a feature that renders this poem reminiscent of Frost. Wright feels conflicted about America, a land filled with both promise and racism. The tensions between the beautiful natural world and a cruel, industrialized world mirror this internal struggle. Wright's anger at his social alienation allows him to empathize with other marginalized people, and his poems often bear an elegiac, mournful tone as he envisions the promise and opportunity that could have been.

Wright's poetry changed markedly, however, after he translated the work of Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, and Georg Trakl. He learned from them a form of surrealism in which the connections between images seem absent. Like other poets writing in the 1960s, Wright also began to reject the traditional poetic form he had embraced earlier in his career. This later poetry reflects his continued interest in portraying outsiders, however, particularly the poor and oppressed. In 1971, his Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize.

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