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E. E. Cummings: A Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 11, 2014


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Frequently Bought Together

E. E. Cummings: A Life + E. E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962 (Liveright Classics) + Selected Poems
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Best Books of the Year
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379979
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Cheever, the author of discerning books about writers, alcoholism, and problematic sexuality, begins this dramatic portrait of modernist poet E. E. Cummings, of “when the world is mud- / luscious” fame, with her memories of Cummings performing one of his famed readings and of listening intently in the backseat as her father, fiction writer John Cheever, drove the poet, his good friend, back to Greenwich Village. This intimacy shapes her telling of the up-and-down story of this unlikely rebel––a handsome, “flexible and slight,” rigorously educated “Harvard aristocrat” who discovered “a kind of poetic sweet spot” of scintillating innovation and complex lyric power. Cheever analyzes Cummings’ subterranean anger, anti-Semitism, excessive carousing, and flagrant antiauthoritarianism in France after enlisting during WWI, which landed him in a camp for “undesirables.” Cheever incisively dissects Cummings’ two disastrous marriages and the shocking abduction of his adored only child, Nancy Thayer, who became an artist and poet unaware of who her father actually was. With Ezra Pound as friend and mentor, Cummings deftly created “wild, expressive syntax” and wielded his signature lower-case “i” as critical response ran hot and cold, and ardent fans left flowers on his doorstep. Cheever’s reconsideration of Cummings and his work charms, rattles, and enlightens in emulation of Cummings’ radically disarming, tender, sexy, plangent, and furious poems. --Donna Seaman

Review

Praise for Susan Cheever’s
E.E. CUMMINGS
 
With boundless new detail gathered through meticulous research, Susan Cheever succeeds where most other biographers have failed.”
 
                                                                                    -The Economist
 
“E.E. Cummings: A Life is like the poet himself: playful, trim, and meticulous.”
 
                                                                                                                -Claire Luchette, Poetry Foundation
 
“Cheever has gone deep into Cummings' personal life and his relationships to give us a fully rounded portrait of one of the previous century's most important writers.”
 
- Andrew McKeever, Manchester Journal
 
 
“Absorbing…a vibrant life that was representative of its time and place in no way more than its refusal to be representative…Cheever revives Cummings as a gregarious, quirky iconoclast through her evocative prose.”
                                                                                                                -Steve G. Kellman, SF Chronicle
 
 
“Cummings’s life is inherently interesting, dramatic, and sad, and Cheever highlights its colorful and tragic aspects…one has to admire the spirit of acceptance that Cheever breathes into her book. Even as she celebrates Cummings’s rebelliousness, bravado, and ‘irrepressible’ nature, she emphasizes, with compassion and tenderness, his frailty, anxiety, vulnerability.”
 
                                                                                    -Priscilla Gilman, Boston Globe
 
 
“Blending biography, memoir and cultural history – among her favored genres – Cheever offers not a definitive scholarly work but a textured inspection of some of the more intriguing faces of the multifaceted Cummings…we get a tightly focused image of Cummings, an image comprising evocative words that occasionally drip Susan Cheever’s heart’s blood.”
 
-Daniel Dyer, Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
E.E. Cummings: A Life isn't the first biography of the poet, but it may be the most charming and heartfelt. An ideal, unpretentious and welcoming biography for those interested in learning more about a great poet too often remembered for his rejection of capital letters than his verse.”
 
                                                                                    -Tom Lavoie, Shelf Awareness
 
 
“Cheever’s biography stands as a welcomed introductory attempt to understand Cummings’s impact, and it is even one of the best efforts to situate a Modernist inside the larger historical context.”
 
                                                                                    -Charles Shafaieh, Daily Beast
 
“Cheever burrows with credibility, exposing Cummings’ actual life, actual unfiltered activities, and from this reveals his motivations and, finally, his world view…She establishes a golden age of poetry with Cummings at its center…Cheever becomes our guide through Cummings’ styles of life and art…She shows remarkable objectivity, which is critical in honest reportage, and her personal skills are beautifully developed and make for delightful reading…With care and responsibility, Cheever gives us a comprehensive view of a man with interesting problems whom we only thought we knew.”
 
-Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books
 
“Cheever’s reconsideration of Cummings and his work charms, rattles, and enlightens in emulation of Cummings’ radically disarming, tender, sexy, plangent, and furious poems.”
                                                                                    -Booklist (Starred Review)
 
“Drawing on letters, archival material and several more comprehensive biographies, Cheever distills the major events of Cummings’ life… This sympathetic life may win Cummings a new generation of readers.”


                                                                                    —Kirkus
 
“Affecting…brilliant…Ms. Cheever is the kind of biographer who can maintain both an intimacy and dispassionate relationship with her subject...deeply satisfying.”
 
-Norman Powers, New York Journal of Books
 
“Cheever rends excellent dramatic scenes out of climactic moments.”
 
                                                                                    -Publishers Weekly
 
 


More About the Author

I was born in New York City and have lived here on and off my entire life--in fact I went to nursery school a few blocks from where I write this. It took me a long time to admit I was a writer--I had a career as a teacher and I loved it. When I was married I couldn't get a teaching job so by an amazing stroke of luck I went to work for my local small town newspaper. After a long time as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I took off to write a novel when I was 35 and I haven't looked back.

Customer Reviews

I learned so much and it was hard to put the book down.
Elodia S. Mero
I found it an interesting, entertaining, well written read that offered a balanced perspective on the man himself and his accomplishments.
Sandy
Cheever knows how to tell a story and tells the story of E.E. Cummings with dash and brio.
Evelyn Bodek Rosen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 15:12
REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN

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 and white images, notes, bibliography, index, $26.95).

In a relatively short book that should be read by everyone interested in not only poetry but the arts scene in the first half of the 20th Century, she writes that Edward Estlin Cummings had been relegated to make "a modest living on the high-school lecture circuit. In the winter of 1960 his schedule brought him to read his adventurous poems at an uptight girls’ school in Westchester where I was a miserable seventeen-year-old junior with failing grades.

"I vaguely knew that Cummings had been a friend of my father’s; my father loved to tell stories about Cummings’s gallantry, and Cummings’s ability to live elegantly on almost no money—an ability my father himself struggled to cultivate. When my father was a young writer in New York City, in the golden days before marriage and children pressured him to move to the suburbs, the older Cummings had been his beloved friend and adviser.

"On that cold night in 1960, Cummings was near the end of his brilliant and controversial forty-year career as this country’s only true modernist poet. Primarily remembered these days for its funky punctuation, Cummings’s work was in fact a wildly ambitious attempt at creating a new way of seeing the world through language.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The cover photo on Susan Cheever's new biography of E.E.Cummings shows an incredibly handsome man, sitting in a chair, seemingly at complete ease with himself and his world. That picture of that man - Edward Estlin Cummings - was at odds with the real life of the real man. He was a complicated man who lived a complicated life. And his poetry is the result of that life.

Cummings - who went by the name Estlin to separate him from his father who was named Edward - was born into a long line of Boston Brahmins on both branches of his family tree. His father, a Unitarian minister, was a Harvard alum, as were most male members of his family. He was born and grew up in a large house just blocks from the Harvard campus. Estlin followed the family line to Harvard but was usually at odds with his WASP background as he aged. He began writing poetry as a teenager, but was also a painter. He seemed to disregard his upbringing but - at the same time - cling to the very beliefs that he was born with. He was married unsuccessfully twice, but he had a relationship with a woman - a companion - for the last thirty years or so of this life. He fathered a daughter with his first wife, but had no relationship with the child after he and his wife divorced. It was only in the last 20 years or so of his life that Estlin reunited with his daughter and they had a fitful relationship ever after. He was, also, maybe, bi-sexual but seemed more bi-confused than actively bi-sexual.

But what of his poetry? He was skilled and inventive at catching the nuances of the times and most of his work is quite enchanting. But some of it is also venal and anti-Semitic. His work came and went and came again into fashion during his life.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mark R. Burton on February 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author's genuine affection for her subject does not cloud her ability to see E. E. Cummings in all of his fallible glory. He was a true genius who also had more than his share of self-inflicted challenges in his personal life. Susan Cheever beautifully knits the personal and the artistic lives together to paint a wonderful picture of an American treasure
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bill Richards on April 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
More like 4 1/2 stars. This biography begins with a recap of Cummings' first "nonlecture" at Harvard and proceeds to give us a tidy, but thorough, look at a complex, brilliant man. Through her father, the novelist John Cheever, the author had the opportunity to meet Cummings and the positive impact was significant. Still, she's able to objectively and concisely (less than 200 pages) evaluate the life and work of the man. It is the immediacy of Cummings' relationships (parents, wives, child, friends and critics) that formed him and Cheever concentrates on that; so many biographies tend to fill space with expansive and irrelevant expositions on a family backround that veers from the subject at hand.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary Kelly ODonnell on August 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Susan Cheever's of her father and the poet's visit to her school draws the reader into a spellbinding biography of e.e. cummings. Cummings life was as complex and odd as his poetry. Son of a minister and Harvard graduate, Cummings adopts the life of a Greenwich Village Bohemian. His rebellious, cynical, angry, and uncontrollable spirit charges his poetry but at times results in self-harm. Readers will appreciate Cheever's commentary on selected poems. Cheever reveals cumming's faults as well as his gifts for poetry and friendship. I find Cheever's books spellbinding--e. e. cummings: A Life is no exception.
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