Thomas Lux was known for his intimate analysis of the human experience captured in haunted yet comedic poetry collections. Lux said of his work, “I like to make the reader laugh – and then steal that laugh, right out of the throat. Because I think life is like that, tragedy right alongside humor.”1 He took inspiration from the Neo-surrealist movement of the 1970s and authored many works, including Memory’s Handgrenade (1972) and Sunday: Poems (1979). Lux cited writers such as James Tate and Bill Knott as major influences in his work.
Thomas Norman Lux was born on December 10, 1946, in Northampton, Massachusetts to Norman and Elinor Healy Lux. His father was a milkman, delivering milk for his family farm, and his mother was a Sears & Roebuck switchboard operator. Lux was raised on the family’s dairy farm. He studied English Literature at Emerson College in Boston, where he took poetry workshops and became poet in residence from 1970 to 1975. For about a year, Lux pursued graduate studies at the University of Iowa but later returned to Emerson. Lux then taught at Sarah Lawrence College from 1975 to 2001. He was also a faculty member of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. Lux was a Guggenheim Fellow and a three-time recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Lux began teaching at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2001, where he held the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne Jr. Chair in Poetry and directed the McEver Visiting Writers Program. Additionally, he oversaw the “Poetry at Tech” program, which included community outreach classes, workshops, and poetry readings. Lux also taught at the Universities of California at Irvine, Iowa, and Michigan.
A self-described “literary oddball,” Lux began his extensive writing career with the critically acclaimed Memory’s Handgrenade. His early work embraced strange imagery and human suffering. He published two major poetry collections, The Blind Swimmer: Selected Early Poems, 1970-1975 in 1996 and New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995 in 1997. His work took a turn in the mid-1980s, leaving behind surrealist, disjointed images and adopting a more focused depiction of the real world. “Half-Promised Land” drew from childhood memories on his family’s farm. He was awarded the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize in 1995 for Split Horizon, a collection of poetry with strange and comedic titles about serious human experiences. His work led him to be a three-time finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry. Lux’s final work was editing I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960-2014 by Bill Knott.
Thomas Lux died of lung cancer at his home in Atlanta, Georgia on February 5, 2017.