Jay Parini (born April 2, 1948) is an American writer and academic. He is known for novels, poetry, biography, screenplays and criticism.
Having published novels about Leo Tolstoy, Walter Benjamin, and Herman Melville, Jay Parini is regarded as one of the leading innovators in the genre of biographical fiction. "While Parini's contributions to American letters are many and varied, as he is a first-rate poet, a well-respected critic, and a masterful novelist," writes Michael Lackey, "he is a pioneer, as both a practitioner and theoretician, in the genre of the biographical novel."
Parini's historical novel Benjamin's Crossing was a New York Times Notable Book of the year in 1997. It is about the Jewish critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, and his escape over the Pyrenees from Nazi occupied France into Spain. Michael Lackey notes, "Parini brilliantly dramatizes one of Benjamin's most important contributions to intellectual history, and it is this contribution that would pave the way for the biographical novel."
His biography of his longtime friend, the late Gore Vidal, Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal (Doubleday, October 2015), was called "A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart." by Kirkus Reviews. Parini figures prominently in the 2013 documentary film Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.
He has published non-fiction books on a variety of subjects, including Theodore Roethke, an American Romantic (1980),Some Necessary Angels: Essays on Writing and Politics (1997),The Art of Teaching (2005), Why Poetry Matters (2008), and Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (2008).
Parini's books of poetry include Singing in Time (1972), Anthracite Country (1982), Town Life (1988), House of Days (1998), The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (2005), and New and Collected Poems: 1975 - 2015 (2015).
Parini, along with Julia Alvarez and Galway Kinnell, was invited to read his poetry at the White House in 2003. However, First Lady Laura Bush canceled the event after learning the poets were intending to protest against the Iraq War. Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Bush said: "While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum." Parini was disgusted by this decision: "For poets to remain silent at a time of national crisis is unconscionable," he said. Fellow poet Julia Alvarez added: "Why be afraid of us, Mrs. Bush? You're married to a scarier fellow." Parini said it was naive for organizers to think he and other poets would check their politics at the door of an event sponsored by the first lady. In response to Mrs. Bush's decision, Parini joined a group of poets that took part in a reading on February 16, 2003 at the Congregational Church in Manchester, Vermont, called "A Poetry Reading in Honor of the Right to Protest as a Patriotic and Historical Tradition". The event was attended by over 700 people, and received national attention, bringing in over 50 reporters and warranting coverage by C-SPAN and 60 Minutes.