Shoaf, Diann Blakely 1957–

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SHOAF, Diann Blakely 1957–

(Diann Blakely)

PERSONAL: Born 1957, in Anniston, AL. Education: Sewanee University of the South, B.A. (art history); Vanderbilt University, M.A., 1980; attended New York University, 1981; Vermont College, M.F.A., 1989.

ADDRESSES: Home—Nashville, TN. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Story Line Press, Three Oaks Farm, P.O. Box 1240, Ashland, OR 97520-0055.

CAREER: Author and teacher. Harpeth Hall School, Nashville, TN, teacher, beginning 1987, and former writer-in-residence; also teacher at Belmont University, Nashville, TN, and Watkins Institute, Nashville; temporary adjunct professor, Vermont College.

AWARDS, HONORS: Walter E. Dankin poetry fellow, Sewanee Writers' Conference, 1993; Robert Frost fellow, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1994; Pushcart Prize, 1994 and 1995; Di Castagnoa Award, Poetry Society of America, 2001, for Cities of Flesh and the Dead; Harold Stirling Vanderbilt fellow, Vanderbilt University.

WRITINGS:

Hurricane Walk (poems), BOA Editions (Brockport, NY), 1992.

(As Diann Blakely) Farewell, My Lovelies (poems), Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 2000.

Author of Cities of Flesh and the Dead and Rain at Our Door: Duets with Robert Johnson. Coeditor of Each Fugitive Moment, a collection of essays on the life and work of Lynda Hull. Works from Shoaf's books have appeared in New England Review, Paris Review, Southern Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, Oxford American, and Pushcart Prize anthologies XIX and XX, among others. Contributor to Bookshelf. Assistant poetry editor, Antioch Review, 1997–.

SIDELIGHTS: Born in the small town of Anniston, Alabama, Diann Blakely Shoaf moved with her parents at a young age to the city of Birmingham but spent school holidays and summers in Anniston with her maternal grandparents in their large home. In their back yard, Shoaf's grandparents housed a black couple who worked for them, the wife as Shoaf's nanny. According to a Poetry Net Web site essayist, "The intricately schizoid relationship, at once intimate and taboo-ridden, loving and exploitative, between such blacks and such whites was probably no more mind-boggling to [Shoaf] than to other children; nonetheless, the South and its racial divide, which became cruelly and explosively obvious in Birmingham during the early '60s, recurs as one of the central urgencies of her work."

Published as part of the "New Poets Series," Shoaf's Hurricane Walk was described as an impressive first collection by several reviewers, and Pat Monoghan indicated in Booklist that, "mincing no words," Shoaf thrusts the reader into the emotional center of each poem. The collection captures characters in the throws of every-day life—painting gripping portraits of mundane and ordinary activities. Joyce Peseroff noted in Ploughshares that "Shoaf writes about the self's desire to escape—from consciousness, from flesh—into art and nature, into otherness; finally, into death," and called the collection "rich in wit, humor, and irony." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that Shoaf expresses an "eerie" and "horrific vision" in the "uneven" collection. The reviewer noted that, early in the collection, Shoaf's unique voice is evident in the speakers as they probe their ordinary, everyday, boring lives; the reviewer called Shoaf's poems "feminist yet focused on an ever-present lover." The reviewer felt that by the final third of the book, as speakers becomes more at ease with their lovers' presence, Shoaf's voice becomes less evident; to compensate, according to the critic, she writes through the voices of mythical or historic figures, "and the results are unimpressive." Frank Allen, reviewing the collection for Library Journal, called the forty poems "well polished" and "combining a purifying sensibility with compassion for loss."

Denise Duhamel, commenting in Ploughshares on Farewell, My Lovelies, said that Shoaf's second collection is "decidedly female poetry—tough, stylized, and heart-smart…. Her voice is an in-your-face voice, an almost performance-poetry voice, yet her poems are full of craft and gorgeousness." Writing in the Women's Review of Books, Lisa M. Steinman noted that the poems in this collection—published under the name Diann Blakely—contain "distinctly narrative elements … [that] often yield to the lyrical, as stories become icons of the soul." Many scenes contain distinct memories from the poet's own childhood and her personal reflections about race and class.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 1992, review of Hurricane Walk, p. 27.

Library Journal, August 1992, review of Hurricane Walk, p. 106.

Ploughshares, winter 1992, Joyce Peseroff, review of Hurricane Walk, p. 238; fall 2000, Denise Duhamel, review of Farewell, My Lovelies, p. 227.

Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1992, review of Hurricane Walk, p. 73; January 10, 2000, review of Farewell, My Lovelies, p. 247.

Women's Review of Books, September 200, Lisa M. Steinman, review of Farewell, My Lovelies, p. 15.

ONLINE

Poetry Net, http://members.aol.com/poetrynet/ (August 13, 2004), "Diann Blakely."