Jonathan Blunk, the authorized biographer, shows considerable empathy for his subject, and his sensitivity to the poetry shines through this long and detailed work ... With notable candor, Blunk reports the copious harrowing facts: Wright’s mental distress and depression (first manifested as a teenager, with repeated breakdowns, hospitalizations and electroshock treatments); his relentless alcoholism, and byproducts of both, including explosive rage, recurring suicidal thoughts, obsession, shame, despair and loneliness. This book clearly conveys how tremendously wounded Wright was. What may not always come through explicitly enough — by following the threads of his dual diagnosis through all aspects of his life and work — is how he turned those wounds into a creative benefit ... Altogether, Blunk provides a sweeping and eye-opening account, for which readers will be grateful.
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.