Anne Carson

Anne Carson Headshot

Anne Carson was born in Toronto, Ontario, on June 21, 1950. She attended St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto and, despite leaving twice, received her BA in 1974, her MA in 1975 and her PhD in 1981. Since bursting onto the international poetry scene in 1987 with her long poem “Kinds of Water,” Carson has published numerous books of poetry, including Float (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016); Red Doc> (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013); The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry; Autobiography of Red (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); and Short Talks (Brick Books, 1992).

Also a Classics scholar, Carson is the translator of Electra (Oxford University Press, 2001), If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Knopf, 2002), and An Oresteia (Faber and Faber, 2009), among others. She is also the author of Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton University Press, 1986).

Her awards and honors include the Lannan Literary Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Griffin Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the MacArthur Fellowship. She was also the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany.

Carson was the Director of Graduate Studies in Classics at McGill University and taught at Princeton University from 1980–87. She has also taught classical languages and literature at Emory University, California College of the Arts, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. She currently lives in Iceland.

Excerpt from Wrong Norma by Anne Carson


“Objects would suddenly fall or fall apart, cars go off course, dogs drop to their knees. The army was doing sound experiments at a nearby desert in those days. I was nervous all the rest of my life (she wrote). She was a novelist and enjoyed some success. But always she had the fantasy of a different kind of novel, and although gradually realizing that all novelists share this fantasy, she persisted in it, without knowing what it would be except true and obvious while it was happening. Now I’m writing, she would be able to say.


She broke off.

Where would you put a third arm? is a question asked in creativity assessment tests, or so I have heard. Will this different kind of novel be like that, like a third arm? I hate creativity (she said). Certainly not like a third arm. It would be less and less and less, not more. Barthes died, he never got there. She named other attempts, Flaubert, etc. Other renunciators, none of them clear on what to renounce. This chair I’m sitting in (she thought). Its fantastic wovenness, a wicker chair, old, from the back porch, brought in for winter. Me sitting here, by a lamp, wrapped in a quilt, beside the giant black windows, this December blackness, this 4.30 a.m. kitchen reflected on the glass. The glass too cold to touch. The loudness of the silence of a kitchen at night. The small creak of my chair.

To be a different kind of novel it would have to abolish something, abolish several things—plot, consequence, the pleasure a reader derives from answers withheld, the premeditation of these. Abolish, not just renounce them. To renounce is weak, reactive, egoistic. If she were ever really writing it would pull her down into itself and erase everything but her decency. She would correspond at all points to her story but her story would not be a story of heaven, hell, chaos, the world, the war at Troy or love, it would be just telling itself. It would have no gaps, no little indecent places where she didn’t know what she was talking about. Because (she wanted to say) it would be a story of nothing and everything at the same time, but by now, while only dimly realizing she was more or less quoting Flaubert’s famous 1852 letter about “a book about nothing” that everyone quotes when they have this idea the first time, she knew she had lost it, the murmur, the trace, the nub where it was her own and (whatever “own” means in a world where it is also “again”) she was forfeit, foolish, flailing, inexact and rattling on, it had eluded her, it lets me go! I cannot bear to be let go, clenched in my quilt, a phantom receding, it rustles off, the dawn barely blueing the air, the static stopped.”

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