Jill Bialosky

New York Times Bestselling Memoirist
Acclaimed Poet, Novelist & Editor

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Suicide & Survivors
  • Publishing & Editing
  • An Evening with Jill Bialosky

“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

“Bialosky isn’t afraid to acknowledge life’s transience or its beauty, and she excels at both.”—Publishers Weekly

Poet, novelist, and memoirist Jill Bialosky was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her New York Times Bestselling memoir, History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life, was called “a source of solace and understanding” by Time Magazine—or, as in the words of Darin Strauss, “This is the kind of book that can teach us—all of us—about what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being. A book, in other words, that will teach you how to live.”

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). She is the author of the novels The Prize (2015), House Under Snow (2002) and The Life Room (2007). She is co-editor, with Helen Schulman, of the anthology Wanting A Child (1998). Her most recent memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life, was published in 2017.

About The Players, Linda Gregerson writes: “Poetry’s two great subjects, love and mortality, are here made one, and every inflection known to words—hilarity and sorrow, ruefulness and joy—has found its prompting here. Nothing known to a boy on the cusp of manhood, to one beloved boy on the cusp of manhood, is beyond the reach of Bialosky’s resilient imagination. That reach extends to comrades in the dugout, coaches on the baseline, parents in their partisan furies, parents of parents in varying states of departure: everyone’s a player in this elegant and generous book.” Mary Oliver says, simply, “It’s easy to imagine a friend handing a copy to another friend and saying, It’s about us.”

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’s most recent memoir Poetry Will Save Your Life was published in 2017. She is the author of four collections of poetry, The Players, Intruder, Subterranean, and The End of Desire; three critically acclaimed novels, The Prize,  House Under Snow, and The Life Room; and the New York Times bestselling memoir History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life. 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.


“Bialosky’s erudite and instructive approach to poetry [is] itself a refreshing tonic.” —Chicago Tribune

“Wisdom and deep compassion…make [Bialosky’s book] a tremendous asset both to readers and other writers.” —The Washington Post

An unconventional and inventive coming-of-age memoir organized around fifty-one remarkable poems by poets such as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath, from a critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and poet.

For Jill Bialosky, certain poems stand out like signposts at pivotal moments in a life: the death of a father, adolescence, first love, leaving home, the suicide of a sister, marriage, the birth of a child, the day in New York City the Twin Towers fell. As Bialosky narrates these moments, she illuminates the ways in which particular poems offered insight, compassion, and connection, and shows how poetry can be a blueprint for living. In Poetry Will Save Your Life, Bialosky recalls when she encountered each formative poem, and how its importance and meaning evolved over time, allowing new insights and perceptions to emerge.

While Bialosky’s personal stories animate each poem, they touch on many universal experiences, from the awkwardness of girlhood, to crises of faith and identity, from braving a new life in a foreign city to enduring the loss of a loved one, from becoming a parent to growing creatively as a poet and artist.

In Poetry Will Save Your Life, Bialosky has crafted an engaging and entirely original examination of a life while celebrating the enduring value of poetry, not as a purely cerebral activity, but as a means of conveying personal experience and as a source of comfort and intimacy. In doing so she brilliantly illustrates the ways in which poetry can be an integral part of life itself and can, in fact, save your life.

THE PRIZE (Novel, 2015)
What do we prize most? Are integrity and ambition mutually exclusive, as we seek a place in the world? How do we value, ultimately, a piece of art — or a life? These are the questions at the core of the evocative new novel by New York Times bestselling author Jill Bialosky. Talented, successful, blessed with a loving wife and daughter, Edward Darby has everything a man should hope for. With a rising career as a partner at an esteemed gallery he strives not to let ambition, money, power, and his dark past corrode the sanctuary of his domestic and private life. Influenced by his father, a brilliant Romantics scholar, Edward has always been more of a purist than an opportunist. But when a celebrated artist controlled by her insecurities betrays him, and another very different artist awakens his heart and stirs up secrets from his past, Edward will find himself unmoored from his marriage, his work, and the memory of his beloved father. And when the finalists of an important prize are announced, and the desperate artists maneuver to seek its validation, Edward soon learns that betrayal comes in many forms, and that he may be hurtling toward an act that challenges his own notions about what comprises a life worth living. A compelling odyssey of a man unhinged by his ideals, The Prize is as well an unflinching portrait of a marriage struggling against the corroding tide of time and the proximity to the treacherous fault line between art and money. Inspired by her work as a poet and the need to preserve a private space for the creation of art, The Prize by Jill Bialosky is her most moving novel yet.

THE PLAYERS (Poetry, 2015)

“Baseball is portrayed in these radiant new poems by Jill Bialosky as a ‘fierce and feral’ rite of passage in which we’re all held hostage to the always surprising vicissitudes of time and change. The Players stakes a claim to a landscape all its own, one in which a profound and beautiful respect for human vulnerability is evident. I was both riveted and moved.”—Philip Schultz

The strongest collection yet from this widely praised poet is about the central players in our lives, our relationships over time — between mother and son, mother and daughter-and how one generation of relationships informs and shapes the next. 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.


“Bialosky’s mantra is The more I know, the more I can bear. Her courageous anatomy of family secrets and tragedies, pain and guilt provides extraordinarily valiant and resonant testimony to the healing powers of truth and empathy. —Donna Seaman

“A tender, absorbing, and deeply moving memoir. Bialosky writes so gracefully and bravely that what you’re left with in the end is an overwhelming sense of love.” —Entertainment Weekly

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.


In the tree in the yard is a bird’s nest.
Remnants of paper, grass, tangled bloodroots;
a courtship; an elaborate masterpiece
of brutal entanglement. For some species,
a shallow depression made in sand.
Years ago when nothing much was at stake
we held hands in the park. The solid un-
swerving way the world newly divided
opened a field of possibility.
The birds are skittish or in harmony.
They draw sustenance from close comfort.
One cannot exist without the other.
I hear him get up, the sound of heavy footsteps.
Birds call. A cry deeper than hurt or love.

— From The Players 

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)


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