Charles Wright

poet laureate icon
1935 –
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2014–2015

Born on August 25, 1935, in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, Charles Wright was educated at Davidson College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He began to read and write poetry while stationed in Italy during his four years of service in the U.S. Army, and published his first collection of poems, The Grave of the Right Hand (Wesleyan University Press), in 1970. His second and third collections, Hard Freight (Wesleyan University Press, 1973) and Country Music: Selected Early Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1983), were both nominated for National Book Awards; the latter received the prize.

Since then, Wright has published numerous collections of poems, including Caribou (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Scar Tissue (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), which was the international winner for the Griffin Poetry Prize; Black Zodiac (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Chickamauga (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), which won the 1996 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His latest collection, Oblivion Banjo: The Poetry of Charles Wright, was release by his longtime publisher, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, in November 2019.

Wright has also written two volumes of criticism: Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews (University of Michigan Press, 1995) and Halflife: Improvisations and Interviews, 1977–87 (University of Michigan Press, 1988). He has also translated the work of Dino Campana in Orphic Songs (Oberlin College Press, 1984) as well as Eugenio Montale’s The Storm and Other Poems (Oberlin College Press, 1978), which was awarded the PEN Translation Prize.

Wright’s many honors include the 2013 Bollingen Prize, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

Wright taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville as the Souder Family Professor of English. In 1999, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and served until 2002. In 2014, he was appointed United States Poet Laureate.