Howe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in nearby Cambridge. Her mother, Mary Manning, was Irish and wrote plays and acted for the Abbey Theatre. Her father, Mark DeWolfe Howe, was a professor at Harvard Law School. Her sister is the poet Fanny Howe. Howe graduated from the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts (1961).
She was married to painter, Harvey Quaytman. She was married to her 2nd husband, sculptor David von Schlegell, until his death (1992). Her 3rd husband, Peter Hewitt Hare, a noted philosopher and professor at the University of Buffalo, died in January 2008. She has 2 children, painter R.H. Quaytman, and writer Mark von Schlegell. She lives in Guilford, Connecticut and was a fall 2009 Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.
Howe taught English at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York from 1989 until she retired in October, 2006. Since then, Howe has held the following positions: distinguished fellow, Stanford Institute of the Humanities; faculty, Princeton University, University of Chicago, University of Utah, and Wesleyan University (English Department’s Distinguished Visiting Writer, 2010-2011).
Howe is author of a number of books of poetry, including Europe of Trusts: Selected poems (1990), Frame Structures: Early poems, 1974-1979 (1996) and The Midnight (2003), and two books of criticism, The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the wilderness in American literary history (1993) and My Emily Dickinson (1985). Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including the Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and the important Language School anthology In the American Tree (edited by Ron Silliman).
In 2003, Howe started collaborating with experimental musician David Grubbs. The results were released on 2 CDs: Thiefth (featuring the poems Thorow and Melville's Marginalia) and Songs of the Labadie Tract.
Howe spent some time in Dublin, where she worked as an actor and assistant stage director with the Gate Theatre. She paints and has worked as a radio producer.
Howe's work is often classified as Postmodern because it expands traditional notions of genre (fiction, essay, prose and poetry). Many of Howe's books are layered with historical, mythical, and other references, often presented in an unorthodox format. Her work contains lyrical echoes of sound, and yet is not pinned down by a consistent metrical pattern or a conventional rhyme scheme.
Her main literary influences are Dickinson, Charles Olson and early Puritan writers like Cotton Mather, as well as minimalist artists such as Agnes Martin and historians such as Richard Slotkin. The link between these is New England, and Howe can be viewed as a New England poet in her sense of new possibilities and preference for an economy of means.(Citation needed) Recent writings, including Pierce-Arrow (1999), reflect an ongoing dialogue and engagement with the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce.
- Hinge Picture. Cherry Valley, NY: Cherry Valley/Telephone Books, 1974.
- Chanting at the Crystal Sea. Boston: Fire Exit/Corbett, 1975.
- The Western Borders. Willitts, CA: Tuumba, 1976.
- Secret History of the Dividing Line. New York: Telephone Books, 1978.
- Cabbage Gardens. Chicago: Fathom, 1979.
- Deep in a Forest of Herods. New Haven, CT: Pharos, 1979.
- The Liberties. Gulford, CT: Loon, 1980.
- Pythagorean Silence. New York: Montemora Foundation, 1982.
- Defenestration of Prague. New York: Kulchur Foundation, 1983.
- Articulation of Sound Forms in Time. Windsor, VT: Awede, 1987.
- A Bibliography of the King's Book; or, Eikon Basilke. Providence, RI: Paradigm, 1989.
- The Europe of Trusts: Selected poems. Los Angeles, CA: Sun & Moon, 1990.
- Singularities. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1990.
- The Nonconformist's Memorial (limited edition; illustrated by Robert Mangold). New York: Gren Fell Press, 1992; New York: New Directions, 1993.
- Frame Structures: Early poems, 1974-79. New York: New Directions, 1996.
- Pierce-Arrow. New York: New Directions, 1999.
- Kidnapped. Dublin: Coracle Press, 2002.
- The Midnight. New York: New Directions, 2003.
- Souls of the Labadie Tract. New York: New Directions, 2007.
- My Emily Dickinson (literary criticism). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 1985.
- Incloser (prose). Santa Fe, NM: Weaselsleeves Press, 1992.
- The Birth-Mark: Unsettling the wilderness in American literary history (literary criticism). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1993.
- Back, Rachel Tzvia. Led By Language: The Poetry and Poetics of Susan Howe. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2002.
- Crown, Kathleen. "Documentary Memory and Textual Agency: H.D. and Susan Howe." How2, v. 1, n° 3, Feb. 2000.
- Daly, Lew. Swallowing the Scroll: Late in a Prophetic Tradition with the poetry of Susan Howe and John Taggart. Buffalo, NY: M Press, 1999.
- Davidson, Michael. "Palimptexts: Postmodern Poetry and the Material Text", Postmodern Genres. Marjorie Perloff, ed. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988/89. (Coll.: n° 5 of Oklahoma Project for Discourse and Theory.) pp. 75–95.
- "The Difficulties Interview", issue dedicated to Susan Howe. The Difficulties, 3.2, 1989. pp. 17–27.
- Duplessis, Rachel Blau. "Our law /vocables /of shape or sound : The work of Susan Howe", How(ever) v.1 n° 4, May 1984.
- Foster, Ed. "An Interview with Susan Howe", Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, n° 4: special issue on Susan Howe, 1990. pp. 14–38.
- Howard, W. Scott. "Literal/Littoral Crossings: Re-Articulating Hope Atherton’s Story After Susan Howe’s Articulation of Sound Forms in Time." Water: Resources and Discourses. Ed. Justin Scott Coe and W. Scott Howard. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 6.3 (2006): .
- Howard, W. Scott. “Teaching, How/e?: not per se.” Denver Quarterly 35.2 (2000): 81-93.
- Howard, W. Scott. “‘writing ghost writing’: A Discursive Poetics of History; or, Howe’s hau in ‘a bibliography of the king’s book; or, eikon basilike’.” Talisman 14 (1995): 108-30.
- Keller, Lynn. Forms of Expansion: recent Long Poems by Women, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
- Ma, Ming-Qian. "Articulating the Inarticulate: Singularities and the Countermethod in Susan Howe," Contemporary Literature v.36 n° 3, 1995, pp. 466–489.
- Naylor, Paul. Poetic Investigations: Singing the Holes In History. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999.
- Nicholls, Peter. "Unsettling the Wilderness: Susan Howe and American History", Contemporary Literature, v.37, n° 4, 1996, pp. 586–601.
- Perloff, Marjorie. "Against Transparency : From the Radiant Cluster to the Word as Such" & "How it means: Making Poetic Sense in Media Society" in Radical Artifice, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
- Perloff, Marjorie. "Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject: Ron Silliman's Albany, Susan Howe's Buffalo", Critical Inquiry, n° 25, Spring 1999, pp 405–434.
- Perloff, Marjorie. Poetic License: Essays on Modernist and Postmodernist Lyric. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1990.
- Quartermain, Peter. Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukovsky to Susan Howe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- Rankine, Claudia, and Spahr, Juliana. American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.
- Reinfeld, Linda M. Language Poetry: Writing as Rescue. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
- Swensen, Cole. "Against the Limits of Language: The Geometries of Anne-Marie Albiach and Susan Howe", in Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing By Women, Mary Margaret Sloan, ed. Jersey City, NJ: Talisman House Publishers, 1998. pp. 630–641
- Ziarek, Krzysztof. The Historicity of Experience: Modernity, the Avant-Garde, and the Event. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001.
- Susan Howe at PoemHunter (3 poems)
- Susan Howe profile & 7 poems at the Academy of American Poets.
- Susan Howe b. 1937 at the Poetry Foundation.
- Susan Howe @ the Electronic Poetry Center.
- Audio / video
- Susan Howe at Amazon.com
- Susan Howe at eNotes
- Susan Howe (1937-) at Modern American Poetry.
- Susan Howe, The Art of Poetry #97 interview at the Paris Review
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