Poet, essayist, and short story writer Tess Gallagher was born in 1943 in Port Angeles, Washington, to a logging family. Her early years were marked by the rhythms of seasonal work, as well as the landscape of both the Northwest and the Ozarks, where her grandparents lived. “I don’t know how many children really get to explore vast amounts of territory like that,” she has said in interviews. “It builds something in you.” Gallagher earned degrees from the University of Washington, where she studied with Theodore Roethke, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Though she continues to live in Port Angeles, Gallagher’s career has spanned countries: she has taught at various institutions including St. Lawrence University, the University of Montana, the University of Arizona, Syracuse University, Bucknell University, and Whitman College. She has translated the Romanian poet Lilian Ursu and collaborated with Jakucho Setouchi, a Japanese novelist and Buddhist nun, on the book Distant Rain (2006). Gallagher also owns a cottage in County Sligo, Ireland, where she lives part-time next to her “Irish companion,” the painter Josie Gray. Together they authored Barnacle Soup (2008), a collection of oral storytelling transcribed by Gallagher. Known for her accessible, intimate poetry, Gallagher has also written three short story collections, a form she was inspired to take up after her marriage to acclaimed short story writer Raymond Carver. Of the differences between writing prose and poetry, she said in an interview with Willow Springs: “I feel like prose comes much more from outside me than poetry does. Poetry is intimate and more generated in my own theater, shall we say. But in prose I have to be responsive to that story that’s coming to me and there has to be some part of me that goes out to meet it.”
Gallagher has published numerous collections of poetry, including Instructions for a Double (1976), which won the Elliston Book Award, Willingly (1984), Amplitude: New and Selected Poems (1987), and Moon Crossing Bridge (1992) a series of sixty poems that centers on the theme of loss and grieving prompted by the death of Carver in 1988. Marilyn Kallet in American Book Review called the book “a rare document of loss, faith, and returns—return to the site of loving and to the gradual last breath, return to life's immediate summonings.” Recent poetry collections include My Black Horse (1995) and Dear Ghosts (2006), a collection of moving, highly personal elegies for family, friends, and lovers. Reviewing the book in the Guardian, Fran Brearton noted: “Gallagher's longer narrative poems in the collection partly seduce, partly overwhelm, with their flood of detail, fluidity of imagery and their intimacy. The excess, even the sheer length of this book, may be part of the point; to travel this collection with the poet is an extraordinary, if emotionally exhausting, experience.” From her earliest work, Gallagher has written in a flexible free-verse style, braiding strands of confessional anecdote, everyday experience, and precise, even surreal imagery. Frequently turning to metaphor and narrative, Gallagher is, as Brearton noted, “preoccupied with poetry’s capacity to merge ‘two sides of two worlds.’”
Gallagher’s increasing interest in the possibilities of narrative, and her relationship with Carver, whom she met in 1977, led her to write The Lover of Horses and Other Stories (1986), her first volume of short stories. Frequently depicting small moments of ordinary epiphany, Gallagher’s prose is known for its urgency and emotional honesty. In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called Gallagher “ a strict, highly disciplined writer, and the tensile quality of her prose often reinforces the sense of danger—emotional, spiritual and physical—that lingers over these stories. Reading them, one begins to fear that something will happen...or even worse, that nothing will occur, leaving the characters to stew, alone, in their disconsolation.” Gallagher’s other collections of short stories include At the Owl Woman Saloon (1997) and The Man from Kinvara (2009). The literary executor of Carver’s estate, Gallagher has staunchly defended his work, seeking to publish the original version of his famed What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, published in 1981 as the product of severe editing on the part of Carver’s editor Gordon Lish. Bringing the book out as Beginners (2009) in the UK, Gallagher also fought to have it included in the Library of America’s Collected Stories of Raymond Carver (2009). Speaking to Jeff Baker of The Oregonian, Gallagher said, “I think what [Collected Stories] has done and what I have done in getting it published is... I have pushed the reset button on understanding Ray, what he cared about in his writing, his tone, his care for his characters.”
Poet Stanley Kunitz once described Gallagher as “outstanding among her contemporaries in the naturalness of her inflection, the fine excess of her spirit, and the energy of her dramatic imagination.” She has won numerous awards for her work, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Maxine Cushing Gray Foundation Award.
St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, instructor in English, 1974-75; Kirkland College, Clinton, NY, assistant professor of creative writing, 1975-77; University of Montana, Missoula, visiting lecturer of creative writing, 1977-78; University of Arizona, Tucson, assistant professor of creative writing, 1979-80; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, associate professor of English and coordinator of creative writing program, 1980-90; poet. Instructor at Willamette University, 1981.
- Stepping Outside, Penumbra Press, 1974.
- Instructions to the Double, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1976.
- Under Stars, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1978.On Your Own, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1978.
- Willingly, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.
- Amplitude: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.
- Moon Crossing Bridge, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1992.
- Owl-Spirit Dwelling, Trask House Books (Portland, OR), 1994.
- Portable Kisses, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1994.
- My Black Horse: New and Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books (Tarset, Northumberland, UK), 1995.
- Dear Ghosts, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.
- Dostoevsky: A Screenplay (with Raymond Carver), Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1985.
- The Lover of Horses and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
- A Concert of Tenses: Essays on Poetry, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1986.
- At the Owl Woman Saloon, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.
- Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2000.
- (Author of foreword) Raymond Carver, Call if You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose, edited by William L. Stull, Vintage Contemporaries (New York, NY), 2001.
- (With Jakucho Setouchi) Distant Rain, Eastern Washington University Press (Cheney, WA), 2006.
- (With Josie Gray) Barnacle Soup: And Other Stories from the West of Ireland, Eastern Washington University Press (Cheney, WA), 2008.
- The Man from Kinvara: Selected Stories, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2009.
Author of television play “The Wheel,” 1970, and screenplay “The Night Belongs to the Police,” 1982. Work anthologized in Influences, Harper, 1982. Columnist for American Poetry Review. Contributor of poems, short stories, and essays to periodicals, including Parnassus, Ironwood, New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Antaeus, Missouri Review, and North American Review.
- Contemporary Literary, Criticism, Gale, Volume 18, 1981; Volume 63, 1991.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 120, 1992.
- McFarland, Ronald E., Tess Gallagher, Boise State University (Boise, ID), 1995.
- American Book Review, August, 1993, p. 18.
- American Poetry Review, July-August, 1978; July, 1988, p. 39.
- Antioch Review, spring-summer, 1977.
- Atlantic, June, 1979.
- Belles Lettres, fall, 1988, p. 16.
- Choice, November, 1984, p. 423; April, 1988, p. 1243.
- Georgia Review, fall, 1984, p. 628; summer, 1987, p. 409; fall, 1992, p. 554.
- Harper's, May, 1979.
- Hudson Review, winter, 1984-85, p. 647; summer, 1993, p. 415.
- Michigan Quarterly Review, winter, 1993, pp. 150-64.
- New York Times, September 6, 1986.
- New York Times Book Review, August 26, 1984, p. 13; September 28, 1986, p. 9.
- Northwest Review, 1988, pp. 96-102.
- Observer, May 11, 1990, p. 69.
- Open Places, spring, 1980.
- Ontario Review, spring-summer, 1980.
- Parnassus, Volume 12-13, number 2, 1985, p. 407.
- Poetry, August, 1985, p. 300.
- Prairie Schooner, winter, 1975-76.
- Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1993, pp. 690-705.
- Washington Post Book World, September 14, 1986.
- Western American Literature, spring, 1989, p. 85; spring, 1993, p. 86.
- World Literature Today, autumn, 1996, p. 962.