The Autobiography of Red

The Autobiography of Red Study Guide

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse is one of Anne Carson’s early fictional works, following Glass, Irony and God (1995) and Plainwater (1995). Published in 1998 to general acclaim, it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Intermingling verse poetry, literary fiction, and scholarly meditation, Autobiography of Red spins something entirely new out of the classic story of Herakles’ tenth labor, in which Herakles defeats the monster Geryon. Carson notes that Stesichoros, the ancient poet, was the first and perhaps only writer to tell that story from Geryon’s point of view. With her loose and playful translation of the surviving fragments of Stesichoros’ “Geryoneis” as a starting point, Carson reimagines their deadly encounter as a contemporary love affair in which Herakles breaks Geryon’s heart.

Autobiography of Red was deemed "a profound love story" by The New York Times Book Review, and The Village Voice called it "a deeply odd and immensely engaging book." Michael Ondaatje, the esteemed Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist, considers Carson ​“the most exciting poet writing in English today.” Autobiography of Red is also one of Susan Sontag’s favorite books. Sontag said of Carson: “She is one of the few writers writing in English that I would read anything that she wrote… She's in a less-than-fingers-on-one-hand group of writers for me.”

Anne Carson hails from Toronto, Canada and has authored a number of poems, essays, and translations. She is a professor of classics and has taught at multiple universities. In a 2000 profile in the New York Times, Carson explains that she doesn’t create artificial boundaries between her academic and creative work: “I write everything in the same notebooks, academic stuff and footnotes and poetry,” and “Sometimes I mix them, mix pages—like one time I wrote an academic article and gave it the same title as a poetic essay I was doing. It just gets all cross-fertilized. The boundaries people set are both unnecessary and unhelpful.'' Autobiography of Red can be considered as the fertile product of such cross-pollination, a tapestry woven by a curious and attentive mind.