Cover image for The virgin of Bennington
The virgin of Bennington
Norris, Kathleen, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
256 pages : portrait ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3564.O66 Z47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3564.O66 Z47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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After a sheltered upbringing in Hawaii, Kathleen Norris was woefully unprepared for Bennington College in the 1960s, with its counterculture of drugs, sex, and bohemianism. But it was also at Bennington that she discovered her great love of poetry, which carried her to New York City at a time when a new generation of poets was rattling the establishment and filling the streets and schools and libraries with a sense of urgency. This is Norris's memoir of that time, when she worked at the Academy of American Poets in the day and hung out with Andy Warhol's crowd at night. It is an inspiring tribute to poetry and a stunning evocation of a time and place that is all but forgotten: New York City in the late sixties.

Author Notes

Kathleen Norris is the award-winning author of "Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith"; "The Cloister Walk"; & the forthcoming "The Virgin of Bennington". She lives in South Dakota & Hawaii.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Norris' subjects--the muted yet majestic Dakota landscape, her family history, the Benedictine monastic tradition, and the power of poetry--hardly seem the stuff of commercial success, yet each of her books has been a best-seller. She now continues her autobiographical journey by going back to the period that preceded the move to her grandparents' house, which was chronicled so memorably in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (1992). She was a shy and well-behaved midwesterner in the mid-1960s, wholly unprepared for the sophistication and pretension of Vermont's famously bohemian Bennington College. A fledgling poet, she evinced a fastidiousness that earned her the nickname the "Virgin of Bennington," but it was a passionate affair with a married professor that induced her to move to New York City. There she had the extraordinary good fortune of finding a job at the newly established Academy of American Poets, then under the inspired direction of Elizabeth Kray. Of gracious and modest temperament, Kray was a visionary and tireless advocate who strived to make contemporary poetry accessible to everyone. She was also instrumental in helping Norris and many others become not only writers but also fully realized human beings. Norris now expresses her profound gratitude and admiration in a magnetic, poignant, often funny, and genuinely inspiring portrait of her mentor. She offers a frank chronicle of her young self, too, and snapshots of the creative synergy that brought her into contact with such disparate artists as W. H. Auden, Patti Smith, and James Merrill. Kray's abiding faith in people and the transcendence of language shine brightly as Norris entrances and enlightens her readers with supple insights into the elusive nature of goodness. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this absorbing coming-of-age memoir by the author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Norris appeals to every reader's struggle to achieve adulthood, both personally and professionally. She tells of her own transformation via the New York art world of the 1960s and 1970s from a homesick first-year college student to a well-known poet and writer living in South Dakota with a strong sense of literary mission. Like many of her Bennington classmates, Norris moved after college to New York City, where she felt much like "Nick Carraway [adapting]... to the dazzling but dangerous world of the East Coast." Norris landed a job as an assistant to Elizabeth Kray at the Academy of American Poets the center of the poetry world which provided her "an opportunity to attend poetry readings, night after night, for close to five years." While in New York, Norris came into contact with an entire host of famous figures, from the decadent folks at Warhol's Factory to some of the most highly respected poets of the day, like Denise Levertov, Stanley Kunitz and James Wright. While gaining an education in urbanity and sophistication that might have made another soul more cynical and self-destructive, Norris managed to maintain a certain appealing innocence and optimism, evident in her receptivity to new experiences and new people, and her hesitancy to judge others. This inner strength leads her eventually to sever her dependency on Manhattan. Norris writes with warmth, frankness and amazing vividness about formative moments and events in her life, many of which readers especially those with artistic aspirations will be able to identify with and to learn from. (Apr.) Forecast: The strong sales of Norris's earlier books pave the way for this memoir, which should sell handsomely. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Poet and nonfiction author Norris is best known for her memoirs, including Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and The Cloister Walk. In her latest autobiographical installment, she traces her coming-of-age as a writer, from her years as a nave "outsider" at freethinking Bennington College (1965-69), through her job as a program assistant at the Academy of American Poets (AAP) in New York City, to settling into marriage and an ancestral home in North Dakota in 1974. Large portions of the book detail and eulogize the career of her mentor, Elizabeth (Betty) Kray (1916-87), longtime director of the AAP and an innovator in making poets and their work accessible to the general public. Besides being a tribute to Kray and a meditation on personal growth, Norris's memoir provides an insider's account of early AAP efforts to gain funding for promotion of a Poets-in-the-Schools Program, poetry readings, retreats for writers, and other projects. Straightforward reading, with few highs or lows, this book shifts the focus away from Norris herself and is not as involving as her previous works. Recommended as a general-interest title at academic and public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00.] Carol A. McAllister, Coll. Of William & Mary Lib., Williamsburg, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1. The Virgin of Benningtonp. 1
2. Worldsp. 21
3. How to be a Poetp. 43
4. Falling Offp. 65
5. Salvation by Poetryp. 93
6. Gravityp. 123
7. Taking Wingp. 143
8. "Only Connect"p. 159
9. Solicitudep. 179
10. Tonasketp. 205
Coda. "We Should form a Company"p. 237
Acknowledgmentsp. 253