Carl Rollyson, Professor of English at Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, writes biographies of maverick women; highly independent, strong-minded, and often iconoclastic figures. Frequently his subjects have been overlooked by other biographers, especially male biographers. Over the years, Rollyson has delved into the lives of Rebecca West, Martha Gellhorn, Susan Sontag and Lillian Hellman. The latest to catch his attention is the poet Amy Lowell, eccentric scion of a famed New England family. The September 2007 issue of New Criterion will feature an article by Rollyson entitled “The Absence of Amy Lowell.” As the title suggests, Lowell, who described herself as an “imagist” poet, has largely fallen out of the modernist canon.
“The Absence of Amy Lowell” is a precursor to the book Rollyson is currently researching. It will be the first biography of the poet to deal candidly with Lowell as a lesbian whose best work, her erotic love poems, were written to Ada Dwyer Russell, the actress she lived with for more than a decade. “It was time for a reevaluation of her work,” Rollyson says of Lowell. “None of the men who (previously) wrote about her could imagine her as a sexual figure,”– no doubt because Amy Lowell weighed more than 200 lbs and smoked cigars.
When not researching the life of Amy Lowell, Rollyson is enjoying himself writing a novel—his first. Entitled Dealing Death, it’s a murder mystery — he and a friend and fellow biographer are collaborating. What’s more, the entire project is being done via email! It started as a joke, “but now we have 10,000 words,” Rollyson notes. “All the murder suspects are biographers. There’s a lot of revenge in the book,” he says with a wicked grin.
At Baruch this semester, Rollyson is teaching “The Arts in New York,” a freshman honors seminar, and a section of English 2100, an intensive writing course.