Key West, Fla.
Elizabeth Bishop home
624 White Street
Poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was born into a wealthy family from Worcester, Mass. After her graduation from Vassar, she used a family inheritance to live a nomadic life in New York City, Europe, Florida, and other places. In 1938, she and her lover at the time, Louise Crane, purchased a house in Key West. Bishop lived at this residence off and on for the next nine years, first with Crane, then with a subsequent lover, Marjorie Stevens.
In letters to friends, Bishop described her island home this way: “It is very well made, with slightly arched beams so that it looks either like a ship’s cabin or a freight car.” The house was located right on the beach and was to Bishop “perfectly beautiful…inside and out.” Bishop’s first volume of poems, North and South, was published during the time she lived in Key West.
It may sound idyllic, but Bishop battled alcoholism throughout her adult life, and the relationship with Stevens did not last. After they broke up, Bishop sold the Key West house and returned to an itinerant life, eventually being hospitalized for both depression and alcohol-related problems. In 1951, with the help of her mentor, Marianne Moore, Bishop secured a fellowship from Bryn Mawr College that enabled her to travel around the world.
But Bishop never got farther than Brazil, where she met the wealthy Lota de Macedo Soares, who became her lover and tried to nurture her away from alcoholism. Bishop kept postponing her return to the States, until her stay in Brazil had lengthened to 16 years. At her home, Lota built a studio for Bishop that was separate from the house and had a stream running beside it. In that peaceful setting, Bishop was very productive and composed some of her greatest poems. But Bishop eventually returned to the United States after Lota committed suicide in 1967 and her own alcoholism worsened.