Adrienne Rich

Cheryl Colby Langdell

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Adrienne Rich

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One of the founders of what we now call “women’s studies,” major American feminist poet Adrienne Cecile Rich was singular in the originality of her voice and in the impact she has had politically and culturally on America and the world. Born on 16 May 1929 to a Jewish father, a medical professor at Johns Hopkins University, and gentile mother, she was taught by her father “as a son” to study and write poetry. She won the Yale Younger Poets Award for her first book of poetry, only to become a leading advocate for women’s rights and a feminist-lesbian icon. She was a frequent contributor to the national dialogue on the arts, culture, homosexuality, and feminist theory. Traveling what the Yale Symposium on Rich called “the path of ubiquity,” Rich burst out of the confines of formalism early on and “began dating her poems—the initial step toward insisting that her work be read as a confluence of history and personal vision.” Later, she transformed herself into an outspoken activist for lesbian rights, achieving a radical reshaping of her identity. Winning the National Book Award for Diving into the Wreck in 1974, she accepted the award on behalf of all women, sharing it with runners-up Alice Walker and Audré Lorde. This and subsequent books mirror the concerns of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and of Rich’s own inner transformations. Her body of work is not just impressive but brilliant and original. Rich has published many collections of poetry, including Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (2011), An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991)—which was a finalist for the National Book Award—and The Dream of a Common Language (1978). Among her books of nonfiction are What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics (1993) and the famous Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1986). Concerned with complete honesty and integrity in everything, in 1997 she refused the National Medal of Arts, writing that she could not accept the award from a corrupt administration. Former poet laureate W. S. Merwin described her passion for integrity best: “[S]he has been in love with the hope of telling utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful.” Rich has received the Bollingen Prize, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Grant”), and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and she was a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 1997 Rich was awarded the American Academy’s Wallace Stevens Award “for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.” Rich passed away on 28 March 2012.

Article.  11061 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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