bialosky

Jill Bialosky

Memoirist, Novelist, Poet & Editor

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Suicide & Survivors
  • Publishing & Editing


“Bialosky, with her delicate touch and clear eye for human frailty, is an author of talent…” —Los Angeles Times

[Bialosky's] hand is always skillful, as attentive to the rhythms of storytelling as to conveying emotion. —Time

Jill Bialosky was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her New York Times Bestselling memoir, History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life, was called “Extraordinarily useful…a source of solace and understanding” by Time Magazine, and “Eloquent, harrowing and wise, brave and necessary, and a gift for anyone who has lost a friend or family member to suicide”by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Bialosky’s collections of poems are The Players (2015); Intruder (2008), which the LA Times called “sharply perceptive, reminding readers about the way life forces us to our knees while restoring us to our true selves”; Subterranean (2001); and The End of Desire (1997). Bialosky is also the author of the novels House Under Snow (2002) and The Life Room (2007). She is co-editor, with Helen Schulman, of the anthology Wanting A Child (1998). Bialosky has received a number of awards, including the Elliot Coleman Award in Poetry. Her poems and essays appear in The New Yorker, O Magazine, Paris Review, The Nation, The New Republic, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review among other publications.

Bialosky studied for her undergraduate degree at Ohio University and received a Master of Arts degree from the Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She is currently Executive Editor at W. W. Norton & Company and lives in New York City.

Jill Bialosky’s website


Jill Bialosky is the author of the New York Times Bestselling memoir, History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life, as well as four collections of poetry: The Players, Intruder, Subterranean, The End of Desire, and The Players. Bialosky is also the author of the novels House Under Snow and The Life Room, and she is co-editor, with Helen Schulman, of the anthology Wanting A Child. Her poems and essays appear in The New Yorker, O Magazine, Paris Review, The Nation, The New Republic, Kenyon Review, and American Poetry Review, among other publications.


THE PLAYERS (Poetry, 2015)
The opening sequence of the collection, “Manhood,” looks at the insular world of baseball, shedding light on the complexities of gender, boyhood, and coming of age. The poet captures the electrifying, proud language of baseball talk, channeling the tone and approach of the young men she observes as a mother, and bringing poignance and deeper understanding to the transaction between herself as observer and the young men she sees growing into adulthood. “American Comedy” is a sonnet sequence about the absurdities and realities of modern domestic life; figures in literature are the players in “Classical Education.” The final section, “The Players,” makes a forceful and disturbing revelation as to how generations hand down both strengths and weaknesses. Exploring the nature of attachment on many levels, The Players brings us Jill Bialosky at her best in poems that find a new language to describe the rich and universal story that is modern motherhood.

HISTORY OF A SUICIDE (Memoir, 2011)
On the night of April 15, 1990, Jill Bialosky’s twenty-one-year-old sister Kim came home from a bar in downtown Cleveland. She argued with her boyfriend on the phone. Then she took her mother’s car keys, went into the garage, closed the garage door. She climbed into the car, turned on the ignition, and fell asleep. Her body was found the next morning by the neighborhood boy her mother hired to cut the grass. Those are the simple facts, but the act of suicide is anything but simple. For twenty years, Bialosky has lived with the grief, guilt, questions, and confusion unleashed by Kim’s suicide. In this remarkable work of literary nonfiction, she re-creates with unsparing honesty her sister’s inner life, the events and emotions that led her to take her life on this particular night. In doing so, she opens a window on the nature of suicide itself, our own reactions and responses to it—especially the impact a suicide has on those who remain behind. Combining Kim’s diaries with family history and memoir, drawing on the works of doctors and psychologists as well as writers from Melville and Dickinson to Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens, Bialosky gives us a stunning exploration of human fragility and strength. She juxtaposes the story of Kim’s death with the challenges of becoming a mother and her own exuberant experience of raising a son. This is a book that explores all aspects of our familial relationships—between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters—but particularly the tender and enduring bonds between sisters. History of a Suicide brings a crucial and all too rarely discussed subject out of the shadows, and in doing so gives readers the courage to face their own losses, no matter what those may be. This searing and compassionate work reminds us of the preciousness of life and of the ways in which those we love are inextricably bound to us.

INTRUDER (Poetry, 2008)

“Gorgeous . . . what a rush these stormy poems of love, disruption, and resignation are, as intense and perfectly noted as violin concertos.” —Booklist

The dark and beautiful third collection from Jill Bialosky is a book about the intrusion of eros, art, and the imagination on ordinary life. The lover who whispers “Is it still snowing? … Will you stay with me?” in the first poem reappears throughout the book in different guises—sometimes seemingly real, at other times as muse, doppelganger, or dream. In “The Seduction,” as the lovers stand to watch a house fire—”gorgeous, dazzling, / the orange and reds of such ruin”—the poem becomes a study in the nature of reality, selfhood, and the different levels of consciousness we inhabit. Evoking Penelope and Orpheus and Eurydice, Bialosky explores how desire and the act of creation can both threaten the self and bring us to a powerful self-understanding. In Intruder—her most mesmerizing gathering of poems yet—Bialosky has captured not only the fleeting truths and pleasures of passion but also its mysterious dangers.

THE LIFE ROOM (Novel, 2007)

“In her exquisite, carefully observed exploration of a modern woman’s inner life, Jill Bialosky has written a novel that poses an essential question: how do we reconcile our passions-love, work, erotic life, children?” —Dani Shapiro

Eleanor Cahn is a professor of literature, the wife of a preeminent cardiac surgeon, and a devoted mother. But on a trip to Paris to present a paper on Anna Karenina, Eleanor re-connects with Stephen, a childhood friend with whom she has had a complicated relationship, that forces her to realize that she has suppressed her passionate self for years. As the novel unfolds, we learn of her hidden erotic past: with alluring, elusive Stephen; with ethereal William, her high school boyfriend; with married, egotistical Adam, the painter who initiated her into the intimacies of the “life room,” where the artist’s model sometimes becomes muse; and with loyal, steady Michael, her husband. On her return to New York, Eleanor and Stephen’s charged attraction takes on a life of its own and threatens to destroy everything she has. Jill Bialosky has created a fresh, piercingly real heroine who struggles with the spiritual questions and dilemmas of our time and, like Tolstoy’s immortal Anna Karenina, must choose between desire and responsibility.


HISTORY OF A SUICIDE (memoir excerpt)

These are the bare facts. On the night of April 15, into the early morning hours of April 16, 1990, Kim went out to a bar in downtown Cleveland with a few girlfriends. She was fighting with the boyfriend she had been with since she was seventeen. In her mind, he had taken on vast importance. She came home—it must have been after midnight. She parked her car, a blue Hyundai she had bought with her own money, in the driveway behind the garage. She was attached to her car. It was the first car she owned and she was proud that she managed to keep up the payments from the tips she made waitressing at a delicatessen called Jack’s. My mother was upstairs in her bedroom. I imagine she was watching television. A chronic insomniac, she used to watch television until the early hours of the morning.

Kim called her boyfriend shortly after she got home. Her best friend told me that Kim had learned he was seeing another girl. Perhaps they fought some more. (Once he’d punched her lights out and she’d ended up in the hospital. Kim broke up and got back together with him many times.) She called and told him she was going to a place far away. He told us he thought she was trying to threaten him. He thought, by “far away,” that she meant she was leaving Cleveland. Dumb fuck, I wanted to say, after he told us this, when he came to my mother’s house dressed uncomfortably in a white-collared shirt and suede blazer to pay his respects. Dark hair pushed back, face white and shattered. I wanted to kick him, but instead, because he was suffering, I opened my arms and hugged him. He took his own life five years later.

Kim must have written the note she left on the kitchen counter, taken my mother’s keys from the counter of the built-in bookcases in the living room, left the house, opened the garage door where my mother’s white Saab was parked, closed the garage door, and opened the car door. She turned on the ignition and fell asleep inside.

FATHERS IN THE SNOW (excerpt from poem)

2.

After father died
the love was all through the house
untamed and sometimes violent.
When the dates came we went up to our rooms
and mother entertained.
Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,”
the smell of Chanel No.5 in her hair and the laughter.
We sat crouched at the top of the stairs.
In the morning we found mother asleep on the couch
her hair messed, and the smell
of stale liquor in the room.
We knelt on the floor before her,
one by one touched our fingers
over the red flush in her face.
The chipped sunlight through the shutters.
It was a dark continent
we and mother shared;
it was sweet and lonesome,
the wake men left in our house.

—From The End of Desire: Poems