Robert Lowell, Setting the River on FireNPR coverage of Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
"The best-selling author of An Unquiet Mind now gives us a groundbreaking life of one of the major American poets of the twentieth century that is at the same time a fascinating study of the relationship between manic-depressive (bipolar) illness, creative genius, and character. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, Robert Lowell (1917-1977) put his manic-depressive illness into the public domain. Now Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison brings her expertise to bear on his story, illuminating the relationship between bipolar illness and creativity, and examining how Lowell's illness and the treatment he received came to bear on his work. His New England roots, early breakdowns, marriages to three eminent writers, friendships with other poets, vivid presence as a teacher and writer refusing to give up in the face of mental illness—Jamison gives us Lowell's life through a lens that focuses our understanding of the poet's intense discipline, courage, and commitment to his art. Jamison had unprecedented access to Lowell's medical records, as well as to previously unpublished drafts and fragments of poems, and was the first biographer to speak to his daughter. With this new material and a psychologist's deep insight, Jamison delivers a bold, sympathetic account of a poet who was—both despite and because of mental illness—a passionate, original observer of the human condition"—