James Wright: A Life in Poetry may be an unexceptional title for Jonathan Blunk’s engrossing biography, but it’s hard to think of a more fitting one ... Transcendence was his obsessive theme and his lifelong project ... Blunk documents all of this dispassionately, letting the facts of Wright’s life speak for themselves — sometimes to a fault ...resulting paragraphs can be desultory, full of fascinating but unintegrated information ...draws on nearly 200 interviews with Wright’s family, friends and literary peers, many of whom are now gone...in the extensive endnotes that Blunk really shines, illuminating his sources and his resourcefulness... That’s literary biography at its fine-grained finest.
Adopting a clear, novelistic style, Mr. Blunk’s narrative is both cogent and thoroughly informed. On Wright’s trail for three decades, he wears his research lightly. There are, inevitably, minor glitches...it might have been good to have more of Wright’s ecstatic and occasionally catty voice in his letters. But these are quibbles. With his lucid portrait of Wright, Mr. Blunk has performed a major service. Wright holds an honored place in mid-20th-century poetry.
...hardships lend some narrative drama to Blunk’s biography, an intermittently entertaining read that will serve as a useful source for readers interested in the poet’s life. Ultimately, however, James Wright comes across as unsatisfyingly exterior. Wright’s dramas played out within his mind and on the pages he left for us. It is there — in his poems and wonderful letters — that we find his humor, his tenderness, his insecurity, his unique and unforgettable voice. In the end, we must turn to Wright’s own words to get a true sense of the man, which is just the way he would have wanted it.