Mary Jo Bang
Mary Jo Bang was born on October 22, 1946, in Waynesville, Missouri, and grew up in Ferguson, which is now a suburb of St. Louis. She received a BA and an MA in sociology from Northwestern University, a BA in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University.
Bang is the author of eight books of poems, including A Film in Which I Play Everyone (Graywolf Press, 2023); A Doll for Throwing (Graywolf Press, 2017); a translation of Dante’s Inferno with illustrations by Henrik Drescher (Graywolf Press, 2012); and Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and was a 2008 New York Times Notable Book. Elegy and Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001) both received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress. Her first book, Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997), was chosen by Edward Hirsch for the 1996 Bakeless Prize. Her translation of Purgatorio was published by Graywolf Press in 2021.
About Elegy, which traces the aftermath of her son’s death, Wayne Koestenbaum writes:
Mary Jo Bang’s remarkable elegies recall the late work of Ingeborg Bachmann—a febrile, recursive lyricism. Like [Friedrich] Nietzsche or [Sylvia] Plath, Bang flouts naysayers; luridly alive, she drives deep into aporia, her new, sad country. Her stanzas, sometimes spilling, sometimes severe, perform an uncanny death-song, recklessly extended—nearly to the breaking point.
Bang’s work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, a Pushcart Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Hodder Award from Princeton University.
Bang was the poetry coeditor of the Boston Review from 1995 to 2005 and the director of the creative writing program at Washington University from 2003 to 2006. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.