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Redemption found after great loss

Franz Wright spent years battling depression and substance abuse, searching for the father who abandoned him

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When Franz Wright was awarded this year's Pulitzer, he won more than poetry's most prestigious honor. He also managed, in some small way, to form a lasting bond with his father, James, who died in 1980.

Now the two men, both Pulitzer Prize-winning poets, are linked in ways they never were when the elder Wright was alive.

This adds to the poignancy of "Walking to Martha's Vineyard," a haunting book that illustrates how deep the chasm was between father and son. It would have been easier, as the title suggests, for Franz to walk across the water than to heal the wounds caused when James abandoned his young family.

This sense of loss colors many poems in Wright's 16th collection. The author keeps looking back over his life, trying to fill the void created by his father's absence. He writes in "Flight":

If I'm walking the streets of a city
covering every square inch of the continent
all its lights out
and empty of people,
even then
you are there...
Since you left me at eight I have always been lonely
star-far from the person right next to me....

James Wright died when Franz was 25, causing another painful break. Franz sought solace in drugs and alcohol, and struggled with addiction for years. He also battled mental illness, living for a time on the streets.

Then, in 1999, Wright converted to Roman Catholicism. This change saved his life, as the poems in "Walking" make clear:

Thank You for letting me live for a little as one of the
sane; thank You for letting me know what this is


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