Shaughnessy, Brenda 1970–
Shaughnessy, Brenda 1970–
Poet, editor, educator. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Lewis Center for the Arts, lecturer in creative writing; New School University, Eugene Lang College, New York, NY, writing teacher; Tin House magazine and Tin House Books, Portland, OR, poetry editor; contributor to Bomb, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney's, New Yorker, Paris Review, and the Yale Review.
Village Voice Writer on the Verge, 1999; James Laughlin Award, Academy of American Poets, for Human Dark with Sugar; Bunting Fellowship, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study; Artist Fellowship, Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission; Isabella Gardner Fellowship, MacDowell Colony; also received fellowships from the Greenwall Foundation and Yaddo.
Interior with Sudden Joy, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 1999.
Human Dark with Sugar, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2008.
Brenda Shaughnessy was born March 21, 1970, in Okinawa, Japan, but grew up primarily in Southern California. A writer, poet, editor, and educator, she earned her undergraduate degree in literature and women's studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz, then went on to complete her education with a master of fine arts degree from Columbia University in New York. She works as a lecturer in creative writing for Princeton University's Lewis Center for the Arts in New Jersey, and also teaches writing at the New School University's Eugene Lang College in Manhattan. In addition, she serves as the poetry editor for both Tin House magazine and Tin House Books. Over the course of her writing career, Shaughnessy has won a number of awards and fellowships. She was named Village Voice Writer on the Verge in 1999, and has been awarded a Bunting Fellowship by the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, an Artist Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, and an Isabella Gardner Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. In addition, she was also granted fellowships from both the Greenwall Foundation and Yaddo. She is a regular contributor of poetry to a number of publications, including Bomb, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney's, New Yorker, Paris Review, and the Yale Review. She is the author of Interior with Sudden Joy, her first collection of poetry, which was nominated for several prestigious awards including the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, a Lambda Literary Award, and the Norma Farber First Book Award, and she is also author of Human Dark with Sugar.
Interior with Sudden Joy is a collection of forty-five poems that speak with an honest voice about sex and sexuality, earning her comparisons to, among others, the poet Sylvia Plath. Shaughnessy is notable for her use of contrasting sounds, both hard and soft, and staccato, tension-filled tempos that butt up against flowing sections of prose. There is an edginess to her subjects that sets off the freedom and adult nature of the language she chooses. The reader feels voyeuristic in relation to Shaughnessy's poems because, even as she portrays an interior life with honest realism—focusing in particular on the realities of being a gay woman, and the link between that and the multicultural landscape—she refuses to open the door completely to allow a true sharing of experiences. She leaves the barrier between reader and poet, one that mimics reality in its absolute sense of isolation. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that "this is a debut whose will-to-power will be hard for any poetry lover to resist." Barbara Hoffert, writing for Library Journal, remarked of Shaughnessy's debut that "the poems are sunlit with her boundless energy." Ellen Kaufman, also writing for Library Journal, dubbed the book "an admirable poetic debut."
In Human Dark with Sugar, for which she won the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin Award, Shaughnessy struggles to balance the multiple aspects of poetry in one volume, offering political awareness, sexual and culture issues, and lyricism, all while maintaining both a serious edge and an awareness of form and style. Despite writing about real subjects and maintaining the serious nature of her subjects, she includes sensuality, through both her topics and her graceful word choices, as well as an awareness of the humor in life. Each poem draws the reader in immediately and allows for a gut-level connection that makes for an emotional experience. Chris Pusateri, reviewing for Library Journal, commented that "Shaughnessy provides an astonishing versatility that rejects the bitter aesthetic arguments in which most American poetry is mired." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared that this second collection "brings a greater emotional bandwidth and stylistic suppleness to the task of unmasking."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, June 15, 1999, Ellen Kaufman, review of Interior with Sudden Joy, p. 81; April 15, 2000, Barbara Hoffert, review of Interior with Sudden Joy, p. 95; March 15, 2008, Chris Pusateri, review of Human Dark with Sugar, p. 74.
New Yorker, August 16, 1999, review of Interior with Sudden Joy, p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1999, review of Interior with Sudden Joy, p. 76; March 17, 2008, review of Human Dark with Sugar, p. 49.
Virginia Quarterly Review, September 22, 1999, review of Interior with Sudden Joy, p. 139.
Key West Literary Seminar Web site,http://keywestliteraryseminar.org/ (June 24, 2008), author profile.
Poets Web site,http://www.poets.org/ (June 24, 2008), author profile.
Princeton University Web site,http://www.princeton.edu/ (June 24, 2008), faculty profile.