Heroine by a Hairbreadth; before the Pulitzer, Her Book Was a Goner. It's Back

By Gates, David | Newsweek, June 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

Heroine by a Hairbreadth; before the Pulitzer, Her Book Was a Goner. It's Back


Gates, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Gates

Last year Claudia Emerson, a poet who teaches at Virginia's University of Mary Washington, published a collection called "Late Wife": one of those quarter-inch-thick volumes whose spines you cock your head to read on the six-foot shelves. Louisiana State University Press gave it a lovely cover, which went on a tiny number of copies. The poems had appeared in magazines ranging from small but prestigious--Southern Review, Shenandoah--to obscure: Smartish Pace, Tar River Poetry, Visions International. "Late Wife" is such a smart, intense, satisfying and approachable book that readers will return to it for decades. But you probably would never have heard of it--and certainly not be reading about it here--if it hadn't won this year's Pulitzer Prize. When the news broke and the book was in demand, "Late Wife" was already long gone from the stores.

Last week you could finally get a copy of the book at a Borders in Manhattan. (Two, actually, the day we went in. The next day, the other was gone.) Emerson's publisher won't give figures, but allows that the post-Pulitzer run was 20 times as large as the first printing. Emerson says it's reprinted 14,000, so--quick math here--this gives us a first printing of ... 700 copies? Given the expectations for poetry, that was probably realistic. …

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