May 16, 1929 March 27, 2012) was an American poet, essayist andfeminist. She was called one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century,and was credited with bringing the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse.Rich criticized rigid forms of feminist identities, and valorized what she coined the lesbian continuum; which is a female continuum of solidarity and creativity which has impacted and even filled womens lives.
Her first collection of poetry,A Change of World, was selected by renowned poetW. H. Audenfor theYale Series of Younger Poets Award. Auden went on to write the introduction to the published volume. She famously declined theNational Medal of Arts, protesting the vote byto end funding for theNational Endowment for the Arts.
Adrienne Rich was born inBaltimore, Maryland, the elder of two sisters. Her father, renowned pathologistArnold Rice Rich, was the chairman ofpathologyatThe Johns Hopkins Medical School. Her mother, Helen Elizabeth (Jones) Rich,5was a concert pianist and a composer. Her father was from a Jewish family,6and her mother was Southern Protestant;7the girls were raised as Christians. Adrienne Richs early poetic influence stemmed from her father who encouraged her to read but also to write her own poetry. Her interest in literature was sparked within her fathers library where she read the work of writers such asIbsen,8ArnoldBlakeKeatsRossetti, andTennyson. Her father was ambitious for Adrienne and planned to create a prodigy. Adrienne Rich and her younger sister were home schooled by their mother until Adrienne began public education in the fourth grade. The poemsSourcesandAfter Darkdocument her relationship with her father, describing how she worked hard to fulfill her parents ambitions for hermoving into a world in which she was expected to excel.8
In later years, Rich went toRoland Park Country School, which she described as a good old fashioned girls school [that] gave us fine role models of single women who were intellectually impassioned.9After graduating from high school, Rich gained her college diploma atRadcliffe College, where she focused primarily on poetry and learning writing craft, encountering no women teachers at all.9In 1951, her last year at college, Richs first collection of poetry,A Change of World, was selected by the senior poetW. H. Audenfor theYale Series of Younger Poets Award; he went on to write the introduction to the published volume. Following her graduation, Rich received aGuggenheim Fellowshipto study at Oxford for a year. Following a visit to Florence, she chose not to return to Oxford, and spent her remaining time in Europe writing and exploring Italy.10
In 1953, Rich marriedAlfred Haskell Conrad, an economics professor atHarvard Universityshe met as an undergraduate. She said of the match: I married in part because I knew no better way to disconnect from my first family. I wanted what I saw as a full womans life, whatever was possible.10They settled inCambridge, Massachusettsand had three sons. In 1955, she published her second volume,The Diamond Cutters, a collection she said she wished had not been published.10That year she also received the Ridgely Torrence Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America.11Her three children were born in 1955 (David), 1957 (Pablo) and 1959 (Jacob).
Diving into the Wreck: Poems 19711972(1973)12
The 1960s began a period of change in Richs life: she received the National Institute of Arts and Letters award (1960), her second Guggenheim Fellowship to work at the Netherlands Economic Institute (1961), and the Bollingen Foundation grant for the translation of Dutch poetry (1962).111314In 1963, Rich published her third collection,Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, which was a much more personal work examining her female identity, reflecting the increasing tensions she experienced as a wife and mother in the 1950s, marking a substantial change in Richs style and subject matter. In her 1982 essay Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity, Rich states: The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me. The book met with harsh reviews. She comments, I was seen as bitter and personal; and to be personal was to be disqualified, and that was very shaking because Id really gone out on a limb … I realised Id gotten slapped over the wrist, and I didnt attempt that kind of thing again for a long time.10
Moving her family to New York in 1966, Rich became involved with theNew Leftand became heavily involved in anti-war, civil rights, and feminist activism.14Her husband took a teaching position atCity College of New York.14In 1968, she signed theWriters and Editors War Tax Protestpledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.15Her collections from this period includeNecessities of Life(1966),Leaflets(1969), andThe Will to Change(1971), which reflect increasingly radical political content and interest in poetic form.14
From 1967 to 1969, Rich lectured atSwarthmore Collegeand taught at Columbia University School of the Arts as an adjunct professor in the Writing Division. Additionally, in 1968, she began teaching in the SEEK program in City College of New York, a position she continued until 1975.11During this time, Rich also received the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize fromPoetry Magazine.11Increasingly militant, Rich and Conrad hosted anti-war and Black Panther fundraising parties at their apartment; however, rising tensions began to split the marriage, and Rich moved out in mid-1970, getting herself a small studio apartment nearby.1016Shortly afterward, in October, Conrad drove into the woods and shot himself, widowing Rich.171014
In 1971, she was the recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America and spent the next year and a half teaching atBrandeis Universityas the Hurst Visiting Professor of Creative Writing.11Diving into the Wreck, a collection of exploratory and often angry poems, split the 1974National Book Award for PoetrywithAllen Ginsberg,The Fall of America.1819Declining to accept it individually, Rich was joined by the two other feminist poets nominated,Alice WalkerandAudre Lorde, to accept it on behalf of all women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world.2021The following year, Rich took up the position of the Lucy Martin Donnelly Fellow atBryn Mawr College.22
In 1976, Rich began her partnership with Jamaican-born novelist and editorMichelle Cliff, which lasted until her death. In her controversial workOf Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, published the same year, Rich acknowledged that, for her, lesbianism was a political as well as a personal issue, writing, The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs.10The pamphletTwenty-One Love Poems(1977), which was incorporated into the following yearsDream of a Common Language(1978), marked the first direct treatment of lesbian desire and sexuality in her writing, themes which run throughout her work afterwards, especially inA Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far(1981) and some of her late poems inThe Fact of a Doorframe(2001).23In her analytical workAdrienne Rich: the moment of change, Langdell suggests these works represent a central rite of passage for the poet, as she (Rich) crossed a threshold into a newly constellated life and a new relationship with the universe.24During this period, Rich also wrote a number of key socio-political essays, includingCompulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, one of the first to address the theme of lesbian existence.10In this essay, she asks how and why womens choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners, co-workers, lovers, community, has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding.10Some of the essays were republished inOn Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 19661978(1979). In integrating such pieces into her work, Rich claimed her sexuality and took a role in leadership for sexual equality.10
From 1976 to 1979, Rich taught at City College as well asRutgers Universityas an English Professor. In 1979, she received an honorary doctorate from Smith College and moved with Cliff to Montague, MA. Ultimately, they moved to Santa Cruz, where Rich continued her career as a professor, lecturer, poet, and essayist. Rich and Cliff took over editorship of the lesbian arts journalSinister Wisdom(19811983).2526Rich taught and lectured atUC Santa CruzScripps CollegeSan Jose State University, andStanford Universityduring the 1980s and 1990s.26From 1981 to 1987, Rich served as an A.D. White Professor-At-Large forCornell University.27Rich published several volumes in the next few years:Your Native Land, Your Life(1986),Blood, Bread, and Poetry(1986), andTimes Power: Poems 19851988(1989). She also was awarded the Ruth Paul Lilly Poetry Prize (1986), the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award in Arts and Letters fromNYU, and the National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry (1989).1119
In 1977, Rich became an associate of theWomens Institute for Freedom of the Press(WIFP).28WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.
In June 1984, Rich presented a speech at the International Conference of Women, Feminist Identity, and Society inUtrechtNetherlandstitledNotes Toward a Politics of Location.29Her keynote speech is a major document on politics of location and the birth of the concept of female locatedness. In discussing the location from which women speak, Rich attempts to reconnect female thought and speech with the female body; specifically, with an intent of reclaiming the body through verbalizing self-representation.30Further focusing on location, Rich begins the speech by noting that while at that moment in time she speaks these words in Europe, she has searched for these words in theUnited States.29By acknowledging her location in an essay on the progression of the womens movement, she expresses her concerns for all women, not limited to just women in her Providence. Through widening her audience to women across the whole wide world Rich not only influences a larger movement but more importantly, she invites all women to consider their existence. Through imagining geographical locations on a map as history and as a place where women are created, and further focusing on the geographical locations, Rich ask women to examine where they themselves were created. In an attempt to try to find a sense of belonging in the world, Rich asks the audience not to begin with a continent, country, or house, but to start with the geography closest to themselves which is their body.29Rich, therefore, challenges members of the audience and readers to form their own identity by refusing to be defined by the parameters of government, religion, and home.29The essay hypothesizes where the womens movement should be at the end of the20th century. In an encouraging call for the womens movement, Rich discusses how the movement for change is an evolution in itself. Through de-masculinizing itself and de-Westernizing itself, the movement becomes a critical mass of so many different, voices, languages and overall actions. She pleads that the movement must change in order to experience change. She further insists that women must change it.31In her essay, Rich considers how ones background might influence their identity. She furthers this notion by noting her own exploration of the body, her body, as female, as white, asJewishand as a body in a nation.32Rich is careful to define the location in which her writing takes place. Throughout her essay, Rich relates back to the concept of location. She recounts her growth towards understanding how the womens movement grounded in theWestern cultureis limited to the concerns of white women to the verbal and written indications of Black United States citizens. Such professions have allowed her to experience the meaning of her whiteness as a point of location for which she needed to take responsibility.29In 1986, she later published the essay in her prose collectionBlood, Bread, and Poetry.29
Richs work with theNew Jewish Agendaled to the founding ofBridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friendsin 1990, a journal of which Rich served as the editor.33This work coincided explored the relationship between private and public histories, especially in the case of Jewish womens rights. Her next published piece,An Atlas of the Difficult World(1991), won both theLos Angeles TimesBook Award in Poetry and the Lenore Marshall/NationAward as well as the Poets Prize in 1993 and Commonwealth Award in Literature in 1991.1119During the 1990s Rich became an active member of numerous advisory boards such as the Boston Womans Fund, National Writers Union and Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. On the role of the poet, she wrote, We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.34In July 1994, Rich won the MacArthur Fellowship and Award, specifically the Genius Grant for her work as a poet and writer.35Also in 1992, Rich became a grandmother to Julia Arden Conrad and Charles Reddington Conrad.11
Theres a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
Ive walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but dont be fooled
this isnt a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
From What kinds of times are these?36
In 1997, Rich declined theNational Medal of Artsin protesting against the House of Representatives vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts as well as policies of the Clinton Administration regarding the arts generally and literature in particular, stating that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration … [Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.143738Her next few volumes were a mix of poetry and essays:Midnight Salvage: Poems 19951998(1999),The Art of the Possible: Essays and Conversations(2001), andFox: Poems 19982000(2001).
In the early 2000s, Rich participated in anti-war activities, protesting against the threat of war in Iraq, both through readings of her poetry and other activities. In 2002, she was appointed a chancellor of the newly augmented board of the Academy of American Poets, along withYusef KomunyakaaLucille CliftonJay Wright(who declined the honor, refusing to serve),Louise GluckHeather McHughRosanna WarrenCharles WrightRobert Creeley, andMichael Palmer.11She was the winner of the 2003 Yale Bollingen Prize for American Poetry and applauded by the panel of judges for her honesty at once ferocious, humane, her deep learning, and her continuous poetic exploration and awareness of multiple selves.19In October 2006, Equality Forum honored Richs work, featuring her as an icon of LGBT history.39
Rich died on March 27, 2012, at the age of 82 in her Santa Cruz, California home. Her son, Pablo Conrad, reported that her death resulted from long-termrheumatoid arthritis.40Her last collection was published the year before her death. Rich was survived by her sons, two grandchildren41and her partnerMichelle Cliff.42
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Perhaps the most prominent contribution of Rich can be seen through her works alone. She has written several pieces that explicitly tackle the rights of women in society. Her book entitledSnapshots of a Daughter-in-Lawis said to be the first work that discusses this subject matter. In the book, she offers a critical analysis of the life of being both a mother and a daughter-in-law, and the impact of their gender in their lives. The book is about a speaker talking against a woman, her mother-in-law, because the former feels that she had become a limiting factor in her life. In addition, she chastises her for not improving her life all the same. This book contains themes which can be described as common in feminist works. For one, it chastises a superficial life focusing on beauty rather than intellectual pursuit.
Another of her poetry collections that concerns feminism isDiving Into the Wreck. Written in the early part of the seventies, this collection marks the start of her darkening tone as she writes about feminism and other social issues43. In particular, she writes openly about her outrage with the patriarchal nature of the greater society. In doing so, she becomes an example for other women to follow in the hopes that continued proactive work against sexism will eventually counteract it44.
Her poems are also famous for their feminist elements. One such poem is Power, which was written aboutMarie Curie, one of the most important female icons of the 20th century for discovering radiation. In this poem, she discusses the element of power and feminism. More specifically, it tackles the problem that Curie was slowly succumbing to the radiation she acquired from her research, to which Rich refers in the poem as her source of power. This poem discusses the concept of power, particularly from a womans point of view.45
Besides poems and novels, Rich also wrote and published a number of nonfiction books that tackle feminist issues. Some of these books are:Of Woman Born, Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Blood, Bread and Poetry, etc.Especially theBread and Poetrycontains the famous feminist essay entitled Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, andFeminism and Community.
From the works listed above as well as her various interviews and documentaries, demonstrate that Rich has an in-depth perspective of feminism and society.
For one, Rich has something to say about the use of the term itself. According to her, she prefers to use the term womens liberation rather than feminism. For her, the latter term is more likely to induce resistance from women of the next generation. Also, she fears that the term would amount to nothing more than a label if it is used extensively. On the other hand, using the term womens liberation means that women can finally be free from factors that can be seen as oppressive to their rights.46
Richs views on feminism can be found in her works. She says inOf Woman Bornthat we need to understand the power and powerlessness embodied in motherhood in patriarchal culture. She also speaks regarding the need for women to unite in her bookOn Lies, Secrets and Silence.In this book, she spoke:
Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.
Given the feminist conditions during the 50s 70s era, it can be said that Richs works on feminism are revolutionary. Her views on equality and the need for women to maximize their potential can be seen as progressive during her time. Her views strongly coincide with the feminist way of thinking during that time. For Rich, society as a whole is founded on patriarchy and as such it limits the rights for women. For equality to be achieved between the sexes, the prevailing notions will have to be readjusted to fit the female perspective.47
Each year links to its corresponding [year] in poetry article:
1960National Institute of Arts and LettersAward
1974National Book Award for Poetry(a split award) for
1989: Honorary doctorate fromHarvard University
1989: National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry
1990Bill Whitehead Awardfor Lifetime Achievement (for gay or lesbian writing)
1991Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service
1991: Fellow of theAmerican Academy of Arts and Sciences
1999Lifetime Achievement Awardfrom the Lannan Foundation
2010: Lifetime Recognition Award from theGriffin Poetry Prize
2017: Finalist,Pulitzer Prize for Poetry(posthumous)
This list isincomplete; you can help byexpanding it.
Of Woman Born: Motherhood As Experience And Institution
, 19791985 (Includes the noted essay:Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence)
What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics
. Philadelphia:Temple University PressISBN
Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations
Essential Essays: Culture, Politics, and the Art of Poetry
Snapshots of a daughter-in-law: poems, 1954-1962
A Wild Patience Has Taken Me this Far: Poems 1978-1981
. W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated.ISBN
The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984
. W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated.ISBN
An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991
. W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated.ISBN
Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995
Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 20042006
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010
Chiasson, Dan(June 20, 2016).Boundary conditions: Adrienne Richs collected poems. The Critics. Books.
Flood, Alison (March 29, 2012).Adrienne Rich, award-winning poet and essayist, dies.
Routledge International Encyclopedia of Queer Culture
. New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. p.484.ISBN
. Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated. p.20.ISBN
A to Z of American women writers Carol Kort
. Books.google.ca. October 30, 2007.ISBN
An American triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich
article, profile: Poet and pioneer. 15 June 2002. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. pp.xv.
Diving into the Wreck. The Academy of American Poets. Archived fromthe originalon March 29, 2012
American Academy of Arts and Letter Award Winners
. Archived fromthe originalon October 13, 2008
Writers and Editors War Tax Protest January 30, 1968
Michelle Dean,The Wreck: Adrienne Richs feminist awakening, glimpsed through her never-before-published letters.,
Dr. Alfred H. Conrad, City College Professor, Dies
National Book Awards 1974. National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 11, 2012. (With acceptance speech by Rich and essay byEvie Shockleyfrom the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
Contemporary American women poets: an A-to-Z guide
Andrew D. White Professors-At-Large. Cornell University
Associates The Womens Institute for Freedom of the Press.
Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985
Old Dogs, New Tricks: Intersections of the Personal, the Pedagogical, the Professional.
The End of a Century: Feminist Millennial Vision in Adrienne Richs Dark Fields of the Republic
Eagleton, Mary (2000). Adrienne Rich, Location And The Body.
: 299312 via Academic Search Premier.
Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations
. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. pp.138144.
Adrienne Rich: Online Essays and Letters. English.illinois.edu
MacArthur: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
, July 11, 1997. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations
Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts
. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. pp.95105.
Contemporary Womens Poetry: Adrienne Richs Diving into the Wreck and Harryette Mullens She Swam On from Sea to Shine
. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier (WVT). p.400.ISBN
. Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press. pp.3941.ISBN
Power for Women: Poems of Adrienne Cecile Rich
Adrienne Rich and the Womens Liberation Movement: A Politics of Reception
Collins, Michael J.The Unearthing of the Body in Adrienne Richs Politics.
Seton Hall ERepository, Seton Hall University
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 11, 2012. (With acceptance speech by Rich and introduction by Mark Doty.)
Gioia, Dana(January 1999) Midnight Salvage: Poems 19951998 (first published in
The Creative Crone: Aging and the Poetry of May Sarton and Adrienne Rich
The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich: Passion, Politics and the Body
Official Adrienne Rich Website. Managed by The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust.
Profile and poems written and audio at Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2010-01-08
Profile and poems written and audio at Poetry Archive. Retrieved 2010-01-08
Profile at Modern American Poets. Retrieved 2010-01-08
Griffin Poetry Prize Profile and videos. Retrieved 2010-01-08
Reading and conversation at Lannan Foundation September 29 1999 (audio, 48 mins). Retrieved 2010-01-08
Extensive audio recordings of Rich at PennSound, University of Virginia.Retrieved 2010-01-08
Legislators of the worldpoetry article by Rich at
Adrienne Rich Papers. Archive atSchlesinger Libraryfrom the Radcliffe Institute. Retrieved 2010-01-08
Works by or about Adrienne Richin libraries (WorldCatcatalog)
Adrienne RichatLibrary of CongressAuthorities with 61 catalog records
Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry winners
Wikipedia articles with style issues from May 2017
Wikipedia articles with MusicBrainz identifiers
Wikipedia articles with WorldCat-VIAF identifiers
This page was last edited on 14 May 2019, at 20:58