Paul Guest

Acclaimed Poet & Memoirist
One More Theory About Happiness


Guest’s work, which cannot redeem his brokenness or ours...makes something beautiful out of it. And that is enough.” —New York Times Book Review


"Paul Guest might be Percy Bysshe Shelley crossed with Nick Flynn, or Neruda fused with Dean Young, at once perpetually dissatisfied and breathless with anticipation." —Publisher's Weekly


"Guest's humor often disarms me before he ambushes me with longing."
—Mary Karr


Paul Guest, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was twelve years old, racing down a hill on an old borrowed bicycle, when he discovered the bike had no brakes. He hit a ditch, was thrown over the handlebars, and broke the third and fourth vertebrae in his neck, bruising his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the neck down. After several surgeries and months of physical therapy at a center in Atlanta that specializes in spinal injuries, Guest is sent home with some muscle control over his legs, though not nearly enough to stand or walk. Despite his physical limitations, Guest graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and from Southern Illinois University with an M.F.A. He went on to author three volumes of poetry and a memoir.

Guest's memoir, One More Theory About Happiness (Ecco Press, 2010), narrates his journey from his boyhood accident and adapting to life in a wheelchair to living on his own, graduating from college, becoming a teacher, and getting engaged. Publisher’s Weekly says of the book: “Hopeful but refreshingly direct, Guest's memoir is not simply an inspirational account of overcoming disability, but an insightful, vivid account of an outsider finding his place.”

New York Times Review of Memoir

His first collection of poems, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, explores the body and disability, familial history, and the author's childhood in the South, which was "oppressive as wool and cartoon tonnage" in one poem, and, in another, "home ... a wordless idea." The book was selected by poet and MacArthur Fellow Campbell McGrath as winner of the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize. His second collection, Notes for My Body Double, winner of the 2006 Prairie Schooner Prize in Poetry, explore the loss of love, the pleasures of language, and the fascinations of pop culture. His third collection, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco Press 2008) toys with biography and truth—and our expectations of them—blurring the distinctions between puckish cheek and utter sincerity. The poems are brash, exuberant, lyrical, and, above all, large-hearted. His poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, and Slate, among others.

The recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2007 Whiting Writers' Award, Guest was recently a visiting professor of English at the University of West Georgia. He lives in Charlottesville and teaches at the University of Virginia.


“Exquisitely crafted… Heartbreakingly funny, pitilessly honest, One More Theory About Happiness is above all a quiet and bold and loving work of art that renders beautifully what it means to live."
 —Bret Lott


One More Theory About Happiness is a bold and original memoir from the acclaimed, Whiting Award-winning poet Paul Guest. A remarkable account of the accident that left him a quadriplegic, and his struggle to find independence, love, and a life on his own terms, One More Theory About Happiness has been praised by Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children, "[s]mart and honest and clear eyed and above all, humane.” One More Theory About Happiness follows a boy into manhood, from the harrowing days immediately after his accident to his adult life as a teacher, award-winning poet, and soon-to-be husband. His searing poetic sensibility has earned him praise from the highest ranks of American letters. Shatteringly funny, deeply moving, and breathtakingly honest, One More Theory About Happiness takes us from a body irrevocably changed to a life fiercely cherished. 


“The invalid’s rage...and the ridiculousness of it all inform Paul Guest’s wonderful poems, flung one after another in the teeth of “daily” life, each an act of defiance that affirms the terrible power of  that life.”  
—John Ashberry


Paul Guest’s My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge is an audaciously brilliant collection—a compendium of honesty, strange beauty, and pain—poems Louis Gluck calls, “urgent and moving,” and Robert Hass calls, “vibrant with news of the world seen from an angle of experience not available to most of us.” Mary Karr says, “Guest is a spirit to be reckoned with. Here’s a body of new work to cheer about.” At the age of twelve, Paul Guest suffered a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed for life. But out of sudden disaster evolved a fierce poetic sensibility—one that blossomed into a refuge for all the grief, fury, and wonder at life forever altered. Although its legacy lies in tragedy, the voice of these brilliant poems cuts a broad swath of emotions: whether he is lamenting the potentiality of physical experience or imagining the electric temptations of sexuality, Guest offers us a worldview that is unshakable in its humanity. My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge is a fierce and original collection—its generosity of voice and emotional range announce the arrival of a major new poet. 

Paul Guest website