Jay Parini (born April 2, 1948) is an American writer and academic. He is known for novels and poetry, biography and criticism.
Having published novels about Leo Tolstoy, Walter Benjamin, and Herman Melville, Jay Parini is regarded as one of the leading innovators in the genre of biographical fiction. "While Parini’s contributions to American letters are many and varied, as he is a first-rate poet, a well-respected critic, and a masterful novelist," writes Michael Lackey, "he is a pioneer, as both a practitioner and theoretician, in the genre of the biographical novel."
Parini was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and brought up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Lafayette College in 1970 and was awarded a doctorate by the University of St. Andrews in 1975.
He taught at Dartmouth College from 1975 to 1982, and has taught since 1982 at Middlebury College, where he is the D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing.
In 1976, Parini co-founded the New England Review with Sydney Lea.
Parini was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. He was the Fowler Hamilton Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1993–1994.
He was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of London in 2005–2006.
He is a member of the Board of Visitors of Ralston College, a liberal arts college in Savannah that was founded in February, 2010.
Parini has written eight novels, many of which are about the lives of literary icons, and narratives from his own personal life.
His 1990 international best-selling novel The Last Station is about the final months of Leo Tolstoy. It was translated into over thirty languages, and adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film (The Last Station) starring Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Paul Giamatti. The film was released in December 2009.
Parini's historical novel Benjamin's Crossing was a New York Times Notable Book of the year in 1997. It is about the Jewish critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, and his escape over the Pyrenees from Nazi occupied France into Spain. Michael Lackey notes, "Parini brilliantly dramatizes one of Benjamin’s most important contributions to intellectual history, and it is this contribution that would pave the way for the biographical novel."
His most recent historical novel is The Passages of H.M. (2011), which explores the literary great Herman Melville.
Parini's biography Robert Frost: A Life won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for best non-fiction book of the year in 2000. He has also written notable biographies of John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Jesus.
His biography One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner was a New York Times Bestseller.
His biography of his longtime friend, the late Gore Vidal, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (Doubleday, October 2015), was called "A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart." by Kirkus Reviews. Parini figures prominently in the 2013 documentary film Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.
He has published non-fiction books on a variety of subjects, including Theodore Roethke, an American Romantic (1980), Some Necessary Angels: Essays on Writing and Politics (1997), The Art of Teaching (2005), Why Poetry Matters (2008), and Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (2008).
His poems have appeared in a wide variety of magazines, including The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Poetry.
Parini's books of poetry include Singing in Time (1972), Anthracite Country (1982), Town Life (1988), House of Days (1998), The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (2005), and New and Collected Poems: 1975 - 2015 (2015).
Journalism and media appearances
Parini is a regular contributor to various journals, websites and newspapers, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, CNN, The Daily Beast, The New York Times, and The Guardian (U.K.). He has written for GQ, The Nation, The Huffington Post, and Salon.com.
Parini has made numerous appearances on film, television and radio, including NPR, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, C-SPAN, and the BBC.
Iraq War protest
In 2003, Parini along with Julia Alvarez and Galway Kinnell were invited to read their poetry at the White House. However, First Lady Laura Bush canceled the event after learning the poets were intending to protest against the Iraq War. Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Bush said: “While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum.” Parini was disgusted by this decision: "For poets to remain silent at a time of national crisis is unconscionable," he said. Fellow poet Julia Alvarez added: "Why be afraid of us, Mrs. Bush? You're married to a scarier fellow." Parini said it was naive for organizers to think he and other poets would check their politics at the door of an event sponsored by the first lady. In response to Mrs. Bush's decision, Parini joined a group of poets that took part in a reading on February 16, 2003 at the Congregational Church in Manchester, Vermont, called "A Poetry Reading in Honor of the Right to Protest as a Patriotic and Historical Tradition". The event was attended by over 700 people, and received national attention, bringing in over 50 reporters and warranting coverage by C-SPAN and 60 Minutes.
In 2010, Parini and Christopher Hitchens debated religion, the invasion of Iraq, and the war on terror at the Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which drew more than 2,000 people.
Parini is married to the writer and psychologist Devon Jersild; they have three sons.
Parini has won various fellowships and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. His novel Benjamin's Crossing was a New York Times Notable Book of the year in 1997. Parini's Robert Frost: A Life won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for best non-fiction book of the year in 2000. He was awarded the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Italian American Foundation in 2002. He has received honorary degrees from Lafayette College and the University of Scranton.
- Singing in Time (1972) poems
- Theodore Roethke, an American Romantic (1979) criticism
- The Love Run (1980) novel
- Anthracite Country (1982) poems
- Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (1985) editor with Robert Pack and Sydney Lea
- The Patch Boys (1986) novel
- An Invitation to Poetry (1987)
- The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Short Stories (1987) editor with Robert Pack
- A Vermont Christmas (1988)
- Town Life (1988) poems
- The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Essays (1989) editor with Robert Pack
- The Last Station (novel): A Novel of Tolstoy's Last Year (1990)
- Richard Eberhart, New and Selected Poems 1930–1990 (1990) editor
- Writers On Writing (1991) with Robert Pack
- Bay of Arrows (1992) novel
- Gore Vidal: Writer Against the Grain (1992) editor
- Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry (1993) editor with Robert Pack
- Columbia History of American Poetry (1994) editor
- Columbia Anthology of American Poetry (1995) editor
- John Steinbeck: A Biography (1995)
- American Identities: Contemporary Multicultural Voices (1996) editor with Robert Pack
- Benjamin's Crossing (1996) novel
- Touchstones : American Poets on a Favorite Poem (1996) editor with Robert Pack
- Some Necessary Angels: Essays on Writing and Politics (1997) essays
- Beyond "The Godfather": Italian American Writers on the Real Italian American Experience (1997) editor with A. Kenneth Ciongoli
- House of Days (1998) poems
- The Norton Book of American Autobiography (1998) editor
- Introspections : American Poets on One of Their Own Poems (1998) editor with Robert Pack
- Robert Frost: A Life (1999)
- American Writers (2000) editor, yearly volumes
- American Writers Classics I (2002) II (2004)
- The Apprentice Lover (2002) novel
- British Writers (2002) editor, yearly
- Contemporary Poetry Of New England (2002) editor with Robert Pack
- Passage to Liberty: The Story of Italian Immigration and the Rebirth of America (2002) with A. Kenneth Ciongoli
- British Writers Classics (2003) editor
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature (2004) editor
- World Writers in English (2003) editor
- Anthony Quinn's Eye (2004) with Donald Kuspit and Tom Roberts
- One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner (2005)
- The Art of Teaching (2005) criticism
- The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (2005) poems
- The Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry (2005) editor
- Why Poetry Matters (2008) criticism
- Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America (2008) criticism
- The Passages of H.M. (2011) novel about Herman Melville
- Jesus: The Human Face of God (2013) biography
- Conversations with Jay Parini (2014) edited by Michael Lackey
- Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (2015) biography
- New and Collected Poems 1975 - 2015 (2016) poetry
- ^ Noted in The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Last Year, Harper Collins (UK), 1990, ISBN 0-00-223910-8