Born and raised in Chatham, Emerson spent her early years in a largely rural culture. In an interview with the literary journal Shenandoah, for which she is a contributing editor, she remembered her childhood as a time when "white children joined the Children of the Confederacy right along with the church choir and the Girl Scouts." This experience of race and class segregation helped shape her self-definition as a "Southern writer," and her work, as a result, attends to the voices of the undervalued and dispossessed: farmers, the elderly, and—most often—women.
This attention to the individual voice is apparent in Pharaoh, Pharaoh, which also highlights Emerson's other abiding interest: the natural world. In poems like "The Taxidermist" and "Bait Man," she creates speakers whose professions seem mired in ugliness but who reveal that their seeming entanglement with death can also be interpreted as a "messy resurrection" of an animal or a shattered human body.
Late Wife marks a significant, though not radical, departure from the earlier books. Culminating in a sonnet sequence dedicated to Emerson's husband, these poems are more directly autobiographical. They lean more into lyric, as the voice of the poet surfaces. Narrative remains a strong presence, and the poems still linger on the rich details of nature—a hawk caught in a batting cage, bumblebees and spiders that infest a house, locusts dying in a drought—but a sharper picture of a contemporary southern woman—observer, discoverer, lover—grounds these images.
Emerson, who teaches at the University of Mary Washington, is at work on a series of poems located in a girls' boarding school, much like the one she attended in Chatham. Marked by a growing interest in the intersection of various genres of text, these poems use epigraph, allusion, and anecdote to explore the female body itself as a text, both social and sacred, that straddles the border between the natural and the constructed worlds.
January 13, 1957 - Poet Claudia Emerson is born in Chatham, in Pittsylvania County.
2006 - Claudia Emerson wins the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry volume Late Wife.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Kennedy, S. Claudia Emerson (1957– ). (2014, May 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Emerson_Claudia_1957-.
- MLA Citation:
Kennedy, Sarah. "Claudia Emerson (1957– )." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 May. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 26, 2008 | Last modified: May 27, 2014