Michelle Boisseau
(March 1998)

 

Michelle Boisseau was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1955, into a family that by 1964 grew to baseball-team size: Fitz Patrick (Pat), Jonathan, Michelle, Madeline, Nancy, Robert, Charles, Barbara, Denise. Her parents had long ties with Cincinnati, though Boisseau's paternal grandfather had come from Virginia and was a descendent of Huguenots who fled France in 1685. In the mid 1960's their mother, a commercial artist, returned to work when her husband, a radio and television news broadcaster, had a series of manic episodes. Boisseau's parents separated and were later divorced.

Although the family experienced hardships throughout Boisseau's childhood, Boisseau's mother managed to send the children to parochial schools. Boisseau found the church's teachings unsatisfying but its history and pageantry enthralling. She was a fair student at school and at home discovered she could be happily alone by reading—myths, fairy tales, biographies, Nancy Drew, historical novels—stories about people who didn't get lost in the crowd. Encouraged by the scholarly nuns and lay teachers in high school, Boisseau became a dedicated student and began writing more seriously.

Through a creative writing scholarship, state and federal grants, Boisseau entered Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in 1973. The following spring she studied with an O.U. program in Florence and lived with an Italian family. That summer and the following two summers she worked as a waitress in Ocean Grove and Asbury Park on the New Jersey shore, among a contingent of U.S. and Irish college students and traveled to Dublin one winter break. Boisseau graduated from Ohio University in 1977 (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa). After working as a proof-reader and writer at a greeting card company and later as a telephone operator, Boisseau returned to Ohio University (MA 1980) for work with Wayne Dodd, Stanley Plumly, and Paul Nelson. She began publishing her poems in journals, beginning with Intro 11, Missouri Review, and a three-poet issue of Ark River Review.

In 1980 Boisseau entered the doctoral program in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston. She worked with Cynthia Macdonald, William Matthews, Thomas Lux, Edward Hirsch and Plumly. Rosellen Brown served as her dissertation director. After completing her PhD in 1985 she took a position at Virginia Intermont College, in Bristol, on the Virginia-Tennessee border of Appalachia. She taught literature, composition, creative writing and wandered the mountains. In the summer of 1986 she crisscrossed continental Europe with a carry-on bag. She moved in 1987 to teach in eastern Kentucky, Morehead State University, in a town of 6,000, situated in the Daniel Boone National Forest. There she met Tom Stroik, a linguist who was completing his PhD at Wisconsin in syntax.

Boisseau and Stroik were married in August 1988. Their daughter Anna Boisseau was born in August 1990. In 1989 Boisseau received a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, and in 1990 her first book of poems, No Private Life, was published by Vanderbilt University Press. As Stroik presented his work on syntax and semantics in professional forums, they traveled to Belgium, Berlin, Amsterdam, and London. Stroik's daughter Katie from his first marriage spent her summers and holidays with them. Boisseau continued at Morehead State, teaching American literature and creative writing, until 1995 when she joined the faculty of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, her husband joined the faculty of the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the family moved to Blue Springs, Missouri where they are less than 10 miles from a professional baseball park. With Robert Wallace she is co-author of Writing Poems, 4th edition, 1996; they are at work on the 5th edition.

Boisseau's second volume of poems, Understory, was chosen by Molly Peacock as the 1996 winner of the Samuel French Morse Prize and was published by Northeastern University Press. Boisseau has also received grants from the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the University of Missouri Research Board, and Morehead State University. Her poems have won the Lucille Medwick Award, the Cecil Hemley Award, and were a finalist for the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America; she has also received the Stanley Hanks Poetry Chapbook Award and first prize in the National Poetry Competition from the Chester H. Jones Foundation. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Agni, The Southern Review, The Ohio Review, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry, The North American Review, and many other journals. She has also published short fiction. Boisseau is an associate professor and is at work on a third collection of poems, now titled Visual Dictionary.

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