Doty, Mark 1953–

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Doty, Mark 1953–

(M.R. Doty, a joint pseudonym, Mark Alan Doty)


Born 1953; son of an army engineer; married Ruth Dawson (a poet), 1971 (divorced, c. 1980); partner of Wally Roberts (a department store window-dresser; died January, 1994); partner of Paul Lisicky (a writer). Education: Drake University, B.A.; Goddard College, M.F.A.


Home—New York, NY; Houston, TX; Fire Island Pines, NY. Office—English Department, University of Houston, 4800 Calhoun Rd., Houston, TX 77204. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet and memoirist. University of Houston, Houston, TX, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English; has taught creative writing at Columbia University, Goddard College, Drake University, and Sarah Lawrence College; has taught poetry at the University of Utah. Has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Worked at temporary jobs in New York, NY, and Des Moines, IA, c. 1970s and early 1980s. National Poetry Prize, judge, 1995.


National Poetry Series publication, 1993, Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry, 1993, National Book Critics' Circle Award for Poetry, 1994, and T.S. Eliot Prize for best book of poetry published in the United Kingdom, 1995, all for My Alexandria; Boston Review Poetry Prize, 1996, Ambassador Book Award, Bingham Poetry Prize, and Lambda Literary Award, all for Atlantis; PEN/Martha Albrand Award for first book of nonfiction, 1997, for Heaven's Coast: A Memoir; Lambda Literary Award in gay men's poetry, Lambda Literary Foundation, 2002, for Source. Also recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award; Witter Bynner Poetry Prize, American Academy of Arts & Letters; and Guggenheim, National Endowment of the Arts, Whiting, Ingram Merrill, and Rockefeller fellowships.



Turtle, Swan (also see below), David R. Godine (Boston, MA), 1987.

Bethlehem in Broad Daylight (also see below), David R. Godine (Lincoln, MA), 1991.

My Alexandria, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1993.

Atlantis, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Sweet Machine, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Island Sheaf, Dim Gray Bar Press (New York, NY), 1998, limited and special edition, 1998.

Turtle, Swan [and] Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2000.

Source, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

School of the Arts, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.

Contributor to Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, by Bill Moyers, Morrow, 1999; and The New Bread Loaf Anthology of ContemporaryAmerican Poetry, edited by Michael Collier and Stanley Plumly, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH). Contributor of poems to magazines (some under the joint pseudonym M.R. Doty), including Kayak! Coauthor of the chapbooks (under the joint pseudonym M.R. Doty) An Alphabet, An Introduction to the Geography of Iowa, and The Empire of Summer.


Heaven's Coast: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

Firebird: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2001.

(Editor) Open House: Writers Redefine Home, Graywolf Press (Saint Paul, MN), 2003.

Dog Years: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.


Favrile, Dim Gray Bar Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Murano, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA), 2000.

Seeing Venice: Bellotto's Grand Canal, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA), 2003.

Fire to Fire, Sutton Hoo Press (Winona, MN), 2004.


Since the publication of his first volume of verse, Turtle, Swan, in 1987, Mark Doty has become recognized as one of the most accomplished poets in America. Like the work of James Merrill, Doty's writings transcend the category of "gay poetry" to appeal to a diverse cross-section of readers; fittingly, Doty has won a number of prestigious literary awards, including the Whiting Writer's Award, the T.S. Eliot Prize (of which he was the first U.S. winner), the National Poetry Series publication, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and the National Book Critics' Circle Award. In addition, Doty has published a number of critically acclaimed life stories, including Heaven's Coast: A Memoir and Firebird: A Memoir. "I do, decidedly, see myself as a student, and my work as one of inquiry into the nature of experience," Doty told Lambda Book Report contributor Christopher Hennessy. "Making art is a discipline of paying attention. That's what poetry and nonfiction have in common for me, that work of attending to what we see, attempting to know it in a more profound way—through saying what we see—than can be done simply by experiencing."

Doty, the son of an army engineer, grew up in a succession of suburbs in Tennessee, Florida, southern California, and Arizona. An ancestor, Edward Dotey, was, as Doty recounted in a 1996 Publishers Weekly interview with Jonathan Bing, "the ‘archetypal American scoundrel,’" who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, fought the first duel on American soil, and filed the first lawsuit in this country. Doty described himself, in Publishers Weekly, as having been "a sissy" in childhood; frightened by his emerging sexual identity, he married hastily at age eighteen. After completing his undergraduate studies at Drake University in Iowa, he got a divorce and moved to Manhattan, where he paid his dues as a temporary office worker. He earned a master's degree in creative writing from Goddard College during part-time semesters; during the same period, he met his lasting love, Wally Roberts, a window-dresser at a department store. The couple lived together for twelve years in Manhattan and in Provincetown, Massachusetts; Wally's illness and death from AIDS, with which he was diagnosed in 1989 and to which he finally succumbed in January 1994, was to be the central event of Doty's maturation as a person and a poet. (Doty himself tested negative for HIV.) In the interim, however, Doty was publishing his early work.

A first volume of poems, Turtle, Swan, was rejected by the publisher David Godine, only to be accepted by Godine after urgings from author Roger Weingarten, whose works had also been published by Godine. On its publication in 1987, a Booklist critic praised the "quiet, intimate" Turtle, Swan for turning the gay experience into "an example of how we live, how we suffer and transcend suffering," while Marianne Boruch, in American Poetry Review, called the volume "a stunning arrival." Doty's second collection, Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, was published in 1991 and also won praise from critics. Miriam Levine, writing in American Book Review, appreciated Doty's gift for "simple speech," and specified that "Doty's poems work best when he finds his way back and forth between the vernacular and the elegant music of desire and loss." Poetry reviewer David Baker commended Doty for "well-ordered poetry whose primary method is anecdotal, whose speaker is singular and personal, and whose vision is skeptical." If there was a problem in Doty's work, Baker hypothesized, it was the poet's "detachment from his own story"—Doty, he claimed, approached his subjects as a "privileged observer and commentator."

If this were indeed a problem, Doty went a long way toward dealing with it in his 1993 work My Alexandria, which won the National Poetry Series contest and was therefore published by the University of Illinois Press. Here, Doty writes about the pain of life as seen through the prism of AIDS. Yet, as Ray Gonzalez noted in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "Doty goes beyond the triumph of the plague to write about life beyond this dark century…. He has the courage to extract beauty out of the living moments created by death…. The pain, the memories and the surviving beauty strengthen and nourish him." Assessing the volume for the Yale Review, Vernon Shetley wrote, "Doty's writing displays tremendous craft in ways that have become fairly unusual in our poetry…. And one senses in the poetry as well an admirable assurance in the choices he makes."

On the negative side, Shetley felt that Doty relied too much on a rich "gift for phrasemaking"; all in all, however, he hailed My Alexandria as evidence of "a big talent at work." Bing looked back on My Alexandria in retrospect as "a watershed" in Doty's career, full of "luminous studies of urban and natural flux." Doty himself told Bing that he thought of My Alexandria as "a real change…. I was casting about for what would come next. And what came next for me was looking around at the present and adult life," in contrast to the poems of remembered youth in his earlier books.

In February 1996, James Fenton wrote about My Alexandria in the New York Review of Books on the occasion of the awarding of the T.S. Eliot Prize to that volume. Fenton pointed out the explicit homage to Robert Lowell in Doty's work, especially in the poem "Demolition," whose subject was strikingly similar to that of Lowell's great "For the Union Dead." "It's a gutsy act," stated Fenton, who also praised the poem "Fog," a response to Doty's and Wally's HIV tests, as "the best poem in the book." The volume as a whole, Fenton felt, was "a conscious evocation of a personal bohemia … tenderly evoked," and it "hangs together so beautifully that it seems like a single orchestrated work."

My Alexandria also led to Doty's winning the National Book Critics' Circle Prize for 1994 and to the publication of his next volume, Atlantis, by a commercial house, HarperCollins, in 1995. Atlantis was a response to, and in many respects a description of, Wally's illness and death, and Commonweal reviewer Patricia Hampl called it simply "miraculous." Hampl complimented Doty's casual voice and his ability to make something universal—"an emblem that springs open for us all"—out of an individual tragedy. She compared Doty to Keats in being "poised on exact perception. When he sees the ocean—the salt spray hits you." Library Journal contributor Frank Allen praised the poems' painterly descriptions, while Yale Review critic Willard Spiegelman applauded both the visual quality of the works and their "smooth, graceful" music. Savoring, as other critics had done before, Doty's ability to create beauty out of grief, Allen discerned the influences of Elizabeth Bishop, Amy Clampitt, and above all, Walt Whitman, and concluded: "No recent book so strongly warrants both tears and laughter."

After Wally's death, Doty found himself unable to write or even read. However, the solicitation of an essay by a friend who was editing an anthology soon led him to write a memoir, Heaven's Coast, in which he came to grips, in prose, with Wally's life and death. "It was a real gift to be able to write it" at that troubled moment, Doty told Bing, and readers evidently felt the same way, for the book achieved high acclaim and was widely read. Doty deliberately refrained from organizing the book chronologically; it is a patchwork quilt of memories, including quotations from friends' letters. Bernard Cooper in the Los Angeles Times Book Review expressed keen appreciation for this literary strategy: "How else, except with tentative, borrowed strength, can one grapple with the indifference of death?" Cooper called Heaven's Coast a "powerful memoir."

Jim Marks, writing in the Washington Post Book World, found the book "unique among AIDS memoirs" for its author's "refusal to become dominated by his anger" and for his questioning of the appropriateness of beauty as a response to death. Marks found a great deal of appropriate beauty, however, in Doty's prose: "Even his considerable reputation could not have prepared readers for the astonishing beauty of these opening pages." Responding to the scene of Wally's death, Marks wrote that Doty "takes us into the moment of death … in language that, purged of anger and grief, comes close to being transcendent."

Following Heaven's Coast was the 1998 poetry collection Sweet Machine, a work in which "the poems … contemplate nature and art as the closest thing we have to an extravagant, if not transcendent, presence," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Though the collection "is the book of a freer, altogether less burdened spirit," maintained a reviewer for the Economist, Sweet Machine nevertheless appears to contain less intense subject treatment and "slacker" writing, according to the reviewer. However, in a review for Progressive, Joel Brouwer stated: "In Sweet Machine, we see an already masterful poet refusing to lapse into nostalgia or to unthinkingly reuse the poetic strategies that have served him so well in the past. Instead, we find Mark Doty exploring new territories and questioning himself at every turn." Doty expressed similar sentiments in his interview with Hennessy. Discussing My Alexandria, Atlantis, and Sweet Machine, the poet remarked that the three collections "were all concerned, to put it abstractly, with apprehending limit, encountering the fate of the body in time. And with questions of community and memory. To put it more concretely, the shape of these books was determined by the AIDS epidemic, my late partner's illness and death, my own grief, the decision—is that the right word for it?—to live onward from there. The last of these books begins to move outward, wanting to claim a broad involvement in civic life—a sense of the self as one fragile-but-tough survivor in the ongoing pulse of the living."

In 1999 Doty published a second memoir, Firebird, which a reviewer for Newsweek described as "the poet's beautifully written, hallucinatorily evocative memoir of growing up gay in baby-boom America." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly said that the memoir is "beautifully and sensitively written," but has less of an emotional impact and more of a mental one. In Firebird, Doty recalls his experiences as a young boy growing up, including those of an often difficult family life and an increasing awareness of his homosexuality. The Publishers Weekly reviewer commented as well that, in the book, the author "is at his best when describing his relationship to the idea of beauty and how it influenced his growth as an artist."

In Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Doty presents an extended meditation on a Dutch still-life painting by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, painted in Antwerp 350 years earlier. The slim volume "takes [the] reader deep into the painting," according to Peter Marcus in the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. Marcus noted that "Doty's prose sentences read much like lines of his poetry: they beg the reader to pause, to reread, to consider all their complexities…. Still Life is a meditation on how a painting can capture the ephemeral." In Lambda Book Report, Jim Gladstone wrote that the book was "slim yet infinitely rereadable," and in Library Journal, Carol J. Binkowski commented that the volume "should be lingered over and reread to uncover the full depth of its beauty and insight."

Source, Doty's 2001 poetry collection, "offers the picturesque pleasures of a travel diary in subtly formal verse," remarked Library Journal contributor Fred Muratori. Discussing Source with Hennessy, Doty described the volume as a "tale of the poet stepping out of the retreat at the watery edges of the continent described in Atlantis and going out into the U.S. of A." Doty added that he wrote the poems during a four-year period in which he traveled through Iowa, Texas, and Massachusetts as a visiting writer. In doing so, the poet stated, "I gained a sense of myself as not being from anywhere in particular, but rather a citizen of the country. And I want this to be a citizen's book—one that rises out of our crowded, uncertain social moment. To my mind Source attempts to marry the stuff of the inner life—poetry—to a recognition of the particular social world which is this American moment." "The surfaces in Source are intensely, and self-reflectingly, American," observed New York Times Book Review critic Ruth Padel. "Through poems about paintings, cityscapes and people, Doty is searching out the American self."

In School of the Arts, a book of verse from 2005, Doty "presents poems that intertwine feeling and intellect through the symbolism of the everyday world," noted Booklist contributor Janet St. John. In poems like "Oncoming Train," "Heaven for Paul," and "The Stairs," Doty examines the effects of time, the nature of friendship, and the value of art. According to Jason Roush, writing in Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, the pieces are "more deeply layered than some of Doty's previous work, shifting from a habit of perfectionism to a greater improvisation."

In Dog Years: A Memoir, Doty chronicles his complex, loving relationship with the pair of dogs, Arden and Beau, who helped nurture and sustain him as he dealt with Wally's illness and death. "Doty is careful with telling moments and scenes that flesh out the ‘laconic and contemplative’ Arden and the young whirlwind Beau, companions on the trajectory of his life," wrote BookPage critic Deanna Larson. "Elegiac and funny chapters are trailed by brief, delicate ‘entr'actes,’ with tiny observations, like the thump of an arthritic dog's tail, and huge gaping gashes in life, like the death of a loved one, given equal weight and clarity." Though New York Times Book Review contributor Danielle Chapman noted that the author's "elegiac tendency is aided by his dazzling, tactile grasp of the world," she added, "with its breathless aestheticizing of dog life, its melodrama and its rehashing of old material, Dog Years often comes dangerously close to parodying Doty's best work." Most reviewers offered nearly unqualified praise for the work, however. Entertainment Weekly critic Tina Jordan called Dog Years "a warm, thought-provoking discourse," and a critic in Kirkus Reviews described it as "a profound reflection on hope, and a song of praise for the dead." "Poignant, intelligent, and quite simply superb," concluded Library Journal contributor Robert Eagan.



Doty, Mark, Dog Years: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

Doty, Mark, Firebird: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

Doty, Mark, Heaven's Coast: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.


Advocate, October 12, 1999, Michael Giltz, "This Boys's Life," p. 78.

American Book Review, February-March, 1992, Miriam Levine, review of Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, pp. 20, 27.

American Poetry Review, July-August, 1988, Marianne Boruch, review of Turtle, Swan, pp. 39-41.

Booklist, December 15, 1987, review of Turtle, Swan, p. 671; February 1, 1998, Janet St. John, review of Sweet Machine, p. 894; October 1, 1999, Donna Seaman and Gilbert Taylor, review of Firebird: A Memoir, p. 338; December 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Source, p. 625; September 15, 2002, review of Seeing Venice: Bellotto's Grand Canal, p. 200; June 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Open House: Writers Redefine Home, p. 1729; March 15, 2005, Janet St. John, review of School of the Arts, p. 1259; January 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of Dog Years: A Memoir, p. 41.

Christian Science Monitor, April 24, 2003, review of Source, p. 17.

Commonweal, December 1, 1995, Patricia Hampl, review of Atlantis, pp. 20, 22.

Economist, August 15, 1998, review of Sweet Machine, p. 72.

Entertainment Weekly, March 16, 2007, Tina Jordan, review of Dog Years, p. 75.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, spring, 2000, Chris Freeman, "Art That Saves," p. 52; September, 2001, Peter Marcus, "Reflections on Intimacy," p. 42; May, 2002, David Bergman, "The Ineffable Being of Light," p. 37; November-December, 2005, Jason Roush, review of School of the Arts, p. 45.

Georgia Review, spring, 1998, Jeanne Braham, review of Heaven's Coast: A Memoir, p. 172.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Open House, p. 653; January 15, 2007, review of Dog Years, p. 59.

Lambda Book Report, December, 1999, William Reichard, "Portrait of the Young Artist as a Survivor," p. 20; April, 2001, Jim Gladstone, "Metameringue," p. 15; June 1, 2002, "Going to the Source: An Interview with Mark Doty by Christopher Hennessy," p. 12.

Library Journal, August, 1995, Frank Allen, review of Atlantis, p. 79; March 15, 1998, Thomas Tavis, review of Sweet Machine, p. 67; October 1, 1999, David Kirby, review of Firebird, p. 90; April 1, 2001, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, p. 100; January, 2002, Fred Muratori, review of Source, p. 109; June 1, 2003, Nancy R. Ives, review of Open House, p. 121; February 1, 2005, Ilya Kaminsky, review of School of the Arts, p. 82; January 1, 2007, Robert Eagan, review of Dog Years, p. 135.

Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2001, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 31, 1993, Ray Gonzalez, review of My Alexandria, p. 12; April 14, 1996, Bernard Cooper, review of Heaven's Coast, p. 2.

Nation, July 15, 1996, review of Heaven's Coast, pp. 33-38.

National Catholic Reporter, November 21, 1997, Darlene White, review of Heaven's Coast, p. 14.

New Statesman, May 30, 1997, Michael Glover, "Poetry, Mark Doty Says, Is the True Guarantor of Individuality," p. 44.

Newsweek, November 15, 1999, review of Firebird, p. 5.

New Yorker, April 2, 2007, review of Dog Years, p. 79.

New York Times Book Review, October 10, 1999, Michael Upchurch, "Out of the Ashes: A Poet Recounts His Struggle to Discover Himself," p. 30; March 17, 2002, Ruth Padel, "Songs of Myself: Mark Doty's Poems Explore the Ideas of Selfhood and Americanness," p. 15; June 3, 2007, Danielle Chapman, "Howl," review of Dog Years.

O, the Oprah Magazine, March, 2007, Pam Houston, "In Dog We Trust," p. 198.

Poetry, February, 1992, David Baker, review of Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, pp. 283-299.

Progressive, October, 1998, Joel Brouwer, review of Sweet Machine, p. 43.

Publishers Weekly, April 15, 1996, Jonathan Bing, "Mark Doty: The Idea of Order on Cape Cod," pp. 44-45; January 26, 1998, review of Sweet Machine, p. 87; September 6, 1999, review of Firebird, p. 92; October 16, 2000, review of Murano, p. 68; November 19, 2001, review of Source, p. 63; March 7, 2005, review of School of the Arts, p. 65; May 28, 2007, review of Dog Years, p. 58.

Quadrant, September, 2002, review of Source, p. 82.

Times Literary Supplement, September 4, 1998, David Herd, review of Sweet Machine, p. 23; November 22, 2002, review of Seeing Venice, p. 28; September 2, 2005, John McAuliffe, "Fresh and Curdling," p. 21.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 6, 2003, review of Open House, p. 6.

Virginia Quarterly Review, fall, 2005, Sarah Estes Graham, review of School of the Arts, p. 295.

Washington Post Book World, April 7, 1996, review of Heaven's Coast, pp. 11-12.

Writer's Digest, November, 1999, Brad Crawford, "Mark Doty's Healing Laughter," p. 8.

Yale Review, October, 1993, Vernon Shetley, review of My Alexandria, pp. 138-166; April, 1996, Willard Spiegelman, review of Atlantis, pp. 171-177.


Academy of American Poets, (September 25, 2007), profile of author.

BookPage, (March, 2007), Deanna Larson, "True Companions: Two Unforgettable Dogs Mark the Path of One Writer's Journey."

Cruelest Month, (April 2, 2007), Michael Signorelli, "An Interview: Mark Doty."

Mark Doty Home Page, (September 25, 2007).

Mark Doty MySpace Page, (September 25, 2007)., (May 7, 1998), Austin Bunn, review of Sweet Machine; (October 4, 1999), Jaime Manrique, review of Firebird.