Nelson, Maggie 1973–

views updated

Nelson, Maggie 1973–

(Margaret Nelson)


Born March 12, 1973, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of Bruce Arthur (a lawyer) and Barbara Jo (a business writer and consultant) Nelson. Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., 1994; Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Ph.D., 2004.


Office—California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Pkwy., Valencia, CA 91355. E-mail—[email protected]


Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, visiting lecturer in poetry, 2001-02, 2004-05; New School University, New York, NY, visiting faculty member, 2002-05; California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, instructor, 2005—. Writing instructor at Pratt Institute of Art, 2003-04; curator at The Poetry Project, 2003-04.



(With Cynthia Nelson) Not Sisters, Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1996.

The Scratch-Scratch Diaries, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.

Shiner, Hanging Loose Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2001.

The Latest Winter, Hanging Loose Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2003.

Something Bright, Then Holes, Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2007.


Jane: A Murder (mixed-genre narrative), Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.

The Red Parts: A Memoir, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (nonfiction), University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2007.


Maggie Nelson is a writer and poet who has written two books driven by the murder of her aunt. Nelson never knew the slain woman, who was killed before Nelson was even born. Yet, the widely publicized case, and its repercussions, had a profound influence on her from her earliest days. Nelson had already established herself by publishing several books of poetry when she began work on Jane: A Murder. The book utilizes writing from the journals of the murder victim, Jane Mixer; newspaper reportage on the crime; sensationalized accounts from true-crime magazines; and poetry written by Nelson. Together, it creates a "compelling" picture, one which conveys "innumerable complexities," according to Laura K. Cucullu, a reviewer for Curve.

As Jane came to press, Nelson learned that the case involving her aunt was about to be reopened. Though Mixer had long been thought to have been a victim in a serial-killer case known as the "Michigan Murders," DNA evidence led authorities to arrest a new subject, thirty years after the crime. In The Red Parts: A Memoir, Nelson chronicles the reopened case, and reflects on the ways the crime has affected her family for three decades. Her "account is lucid, her head clear, and her writing strong," stated Emily Cook in Booklist. It is a "compelling" book with "luminous moments," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, in which descriptions of physical evidence serve to "concretize the horror" of Jane's murder.

Nelson once told CA: "I left California for the East Coast in 1990 and moved to New York City shortly thereafter to find out what the poets were doing. In New York I studied with the brilliant writer Eileen Myles, whose informal workshops constituted most of my poetic education. Robert Creeley has also been a great inspiration. I have always felt an equal (if not somewhat opposite) affinity with the drama, stringency, and terseness of poets such as Sylvia Plath, Paul Celan, and George Oppen, on the one hand, and the irreverence, openness, and long-windedness of so-called New York School poets such as James Schuyler and Frank O'Hara, on the other. The spirit and method of Ludwig Wittgenstein has also been a constant and clarifying influence in my writing.

"As for motivation, I usually write when I am overwhelmed, and when I feel convinced that writing will elucidate the core of the matter—make an intimacy or an abstraction utterly clear. Knowing full well, however, that language can both clarify and mystify (and often does both at the same time), I have come to enjoy the perversity of the process."

Nelson later added: "My most persistent research and writing interests to date have included the relationship between verbal and visual/performing arts, the relations between ethics and aesthetics, cross-genre experimentation, and representations of violence in art and media."



Nelson, Maggie, The Red Parts: A Memoir, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.


American Book Review, November-December, 2005, "Who-Dunnit Poetry," p. 31.

Booklist, February 15, 2007, Emily Cook, review of The Red Parts: A Memoir, p. 19.

Curve, March, 2006, Laura K. Cucullu, "Tackling Murder the Lesbian Way," p. 14.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2007, review of The Red Parts, p. 114.

Michigan Quarterly Review, fall, 2005, "Narrative and Crime."

New York Times Book Review, April 1, 2007, Eve Conant, review of The Red Parts.

Publishers Weekly, June 18, 2001, review of Shiner, p. 77; May 19, 2003, review of The Latest Winter, p. 69; January 15, 2007, review of The Red Parts, p. 44.


California Institute of Arts Web site, (September 18, 2007), biographical information on Maggie Nelson.

Cecil Vortex, (February 15, 2007), interview with Maggie Nelson.

Small Spiral Notebook, (October 14, 2007), Jane Carr, interview with Maggie Nelson.

About this article

Nelson, Maggie 1973–

Updated About content Print Article