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James Merrill by Langdon Hammer
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James Merrill by Langdon Hammer
Apr 14, 2015 | ISBN 9780385353083

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  • Apr 14, 2015 | ISBN 9780385353083

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“A gorgeously written and elegantly comprehensive study of the tumult and passion of Merrill’s Life and Art.”–The Economist

“A fascinating, engrossing portrait of a deeply lived life.”–Tobias Carroll, Biographile

“[Hammer] sums up people and milieus with strong, deft strokes. The historian and the critic in him are in elegant synchronicity. He goes to work on Merrill’s outsize life like a master fishmonger carving a bluefin tuna. Every cut is measured. Nothing is wasted. The best and fattiest bits – the poetry, in this case – are reserved, like sashimi, for special use.”–Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“By a wide margin the largest, most detailed, and most convincingly atmospheric biography ever written about Merrill – it has all the rhetorical and bibliographical flavor of a durable landmark. It’s considerably helped along toward that goal by Hammer’s lively storytelling style. . . James Merrill: Life and Art is a brilliantly marshaled biography of a surprisingly elusive subject.”–Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

“Langdon Hammer’s richly textured biography of James Merrill’s life and art, which are so inextricably intertwined, is a work of great candor, insight, and sympathetic imagination.  It is a magisterial achievement.”––Edward Hirsch

“This is an overwhelming book.  Very few writers have been as intimately portrayed–or had their work as illuminatingly read–as James Merrill in Langdon Hammer’s prodigious biography. His empathetic yet clear-eyed account shows how Merrill’s exquisite “feeling for the word” merged with his lust for living in an idiosyncratic artistic heroism that produced some of the great lyric poetry of the late twentieth century.”
––Jonathan Galassi

“Fabulously wealthy, gay, prodigiously gifted, Merrill emerges in this stunningly capacious and moving biography in his full complexities: a generous man who thought himself cold; a Jamesian sensibility flinging himself upon the thorns of life; a meticulous formalist who submitted to the occult; a man who hid his HIV-positive status but became, one now sees, one of the major poets of the AIDS crisis. Merrill has found in Langdon Hammer a biographer of enormous discernment, grace and style: it is all here, indefatigably researched, delicately sifted, astutely judged, beautifully written.”––Maureen N. McLane

“Discovering James Merrill’s profound masterwork, “The Changing Light at Sandover,” just as AIDS was beginning to alter the way we lived then and now saved many a soul. His portrait of gay domesticity that rarely noticed its own difference not only challenged the idea of “queerness” in literature, but in the world. Langdon Hammer’s epic study of an epic mind is essential not only to our understanding of the prolific poet, but to the art of biography. Beautifully written and reasoned, Hammer’s book possesses all the qualities Merrill prized in his own work, and life: humor, narrative energy, acute observation and analysis that is profound because it is true.”––Hilton Als

“Meticulously researched, Langdon Hammer’s James Merrill chronicles the life of a poet who believed nothing is lost– and whose poetry of personal experience, sifted by sensibility, is a poetry of mirror and mask, flesh and spirit, disclosure and secrecy. Most of all, it’s a poetry, and a life, crafted from the sublime and the elemental, brilliantly mixed, which Hammer interprets with tender insight and wise sympathy.”––Brenda Wineapple


Lambda Literary Award WINNER 2016

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