James Richardson

James “Jim” Richardson, professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts, will transfer to emeritus status on July 1, 2021, after teaching at Princeton for forty-one years.

Jim was born January 1, 1950, and grew up in Garden City, New York, not far from where Charles Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis on his transatlantic flight.

Jim first arrived in Princeton as an undergraduate in 1967. After graduating summa cum laude in 1971, he received his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 1975. Jim’s main scholarly interest was then in Victorian literature, an interest reflected in his first major publication, Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Necessity (University of Chicago Press, 1977), as well as his subsequent Vanishing Lives: Self and Style in Tennyson, D.G. Rossetti, Swinburne, and Yeats (University of Virginia Press, 1988).

After a five-year stint as an assistant professor at Harvard University, Jim returned to Princeton in 1980; he would serve for many years in both the Department of English and the Program in Creative Writing, which he directed with patience and panache from 1980 to 1993. Over the years, Jim has taught beginning and advanced poetry workshops, and courses on nineteenth-century poetry, contemporary poetry, and lyric poetry. Some of his colleagues in English will remember how, as department secretary, he recorded the minutes of meetings in rhyming couplets.

That tendency towards the succinct, combined with a winning modesty both as a poet and in his person, was evident even from the title of Jim’s first poetry collection, Reservations (Princeton University Press, 1977). A profound sense of the provisional and the impermanent has been a constant throughout his publications. These include: Second Guesses (Wesleyan University Press, 1984); As If (Persea Books, 1992); A Suite for Lucretians (Quarterly Review of Literature, 1999); How Things Are (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000); Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (Ausable Press/Copper Canyon Press, 2001); Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms (Ausable Press/Copper Canyon Press, 2004); By the Numbers: Poems and Aphorisms (Copper Canyon Press, 2010); During (Copper Canyon Press, 2016); and For Now (Copper Canyon Press, 2020).

Among his many honors are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts; an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; as well as the Emily Dickinson, Robert H. Winner, and Cecil Hemley Awards of the Poetry Society of America. The Cecil Hemley Award is given once a year “for a lyric poem that addresses a philosophical or epistemological concern” and is an indicator that Jim is a philosopher-poet in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and his fellow baseball fan, Walt Whitman. The title of Jim’s award-winning poem is “A Disquisition Upon the Soul” so it should come as no surprise that his work was included in Harold Bloom’s American Religious Poems (Library of America, 2006).

Other anthologies in which Jim is represented are David Lehman’s Great American Prose Poems: Poe to the Present (Scribner, 2003) and Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists, edited by James Geary (Bloomsbury USA, 2007). Though Jim would shy away from the word “great” that appears in both these titles, he would surely accept the idea of multum in parvo, particularly now that his course entitled “Life Is Short, Art is Really Short” has achieved legendary status in the Program in Creative Writing. In this course, students explore proverbs, aphorisms, riddles, haiku, micro-lyrics, fragments, and ten-second essays and, as anyone who has been in the proximity of his classroom will attest, the class is characterized by chuckles, chortles, giggles, guffaws, snickers, and snorts. Generations of Princeton students have learned from Jim that poetry may be at once fundamental and fun.

Annual Emeriti Booklet Excerpt: