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Lynn Emanuel was born in Mt. Kisco, New York, and raised in a working-class neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. Surrounded by an extended family of artists, and raised by a businesswoman mother, Emanuel distills her early experiences into a potent cocktail, rewarding diligent readers with unpredictable, meticulously crafted, hyper-aware poetry. In typical Emanuel style, a poem about her dead father, “Halfway Through the Book I’m Writing,” moves in a startling direction: “‘What gives?’ / I ask him. ‘I’m alone and dead,’ he says, / and I say, ‘Father, there’s nothing I can do about / all that. Get your mind off it. Help me with the poem / about the train.’ ‘I hate the poem about the train,’ / he says.”
Of Emanuel’s most recent book, Then, Suddenly—, Gerald Stern says, “There is some Eliot here, some Stein. Emanuel carries self-consciousness to the shrieking edge—and almost falls in. Well, she does fall in. She is a master of the negative, but she doesn’t sigh in boredom; she yells in pain. Her vision is original; so is her language.”
In addition to Then, Suddenly—, Emanuel is the author of two other collections of poetry: Hotel Fiesta and The Dig. Her work has been featured in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Poetry, and The Oxford Book of American Poetry, among other anthologies. Her honors include the National Poetry Series Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Eric Matthieu King Award from the Academy of American Poets for Then, Suddenly—.
Emanuel earned an MA from City College and an MFA from the University of Iowa. She has taught at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Warren Wilson Program in Creative Writing, and the Vermont College Creative Writing Program. She currently directs the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh. We met in her New York City hotel room during the rush of the Association of Writing Programs 2008 conference, where we discussed comic strips, “breaking up” with Italo Calvino, and the culture of getting by in America.