Who’s Afraid of John Ashbery?
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Published in: November-December 2023 issue.

JOHN ASHBERY (Critical Lives)
by Jess Cotton
Reaktion Books. 210 pages, $22.


POET JOHN ASHBERY (1927-2017) is described by Jess Cotton in Critical Lives as “at once notorious and celebrated” owing to the perceived difficulty of his work. Cotton’s short but thorough explication of Ashbery’s life and work does a fine job of placing him both as a 20th-century poet and as a leading figure among gay writers. The book is part of a series published in Great Britain that includes scores of biographies focused on the writer’s work, including well-known gay writers such as Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, Yukio Mishima, Marcel Proust, Susan Sontag, and Tennessee Williams.

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Alan Contreras is a writer and higher education consultant who lives in Eugene, Oregon.