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FROM THIS EPISODE

After the death of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Franz Wright in 2015, his wife Beth gave producer Bianca Giaever 546 audio tapes that he made as he was dying. Unable to type because of pain in his wrists, Franz used an audio recorder to dictate his poetry, but it picked up much more: Franz talked with his wife, made phone calls, cursed at his cat, and fantasized about the first human to ever speak.

Franz was known in the poetry world as a genius and a lunatic. His father was James Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1972. Franz was plagued by mental illness and addiction, and he attempted suicide many times.

When Bianca visited his apartment in Waltham, Massachusetts, she was amazed by what she saw. Writing covered the apartment. Franz wrote poetry directly on the fridge, painted poetry on the walls, and even scribbled on coffee filters. All over the house Bianca found love notes they had written to each other. Franz had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis, but the tapes record an incredible vitality in the face of death. His wife’s decision to give her these tapes changed Bianca’s life.

You can find photos of the apartment Franz and Beth shared, including the poetry Franz wrote on a styrofoam Dunkin’ Donuts cup just after he awoke from surgery, at mcsweeneys.net.

This story was produced by Bianca and Jay Allison, and originally aired on the public radio website Transom.org. You can find the original story and read about their process here.

Support for this project came from the National Endowment for the Arts.

CREDITS

Produced by Bianca Giaever and Jay Allison for Transom.org
Image of Franz Wright courtesy of Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

Host:
Andrew Leland

Producers:
Ross Simonini
Andrew Leland

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