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Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

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Adrienne Cecile Rich is an American poet, essayist and feminist. She has been called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century."

Early life


Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the older of two sisters. Her father, the renowned pathologist Arnold Rice Rich
Arnold Rice Rich
-Career:Born March 28 1893 in Birmingham, Alabama, Arnold Rich attended the University of Virginia, majoring in biology, and then, fatefully, went to the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland from which he received his M.D. degree in 1919. He remained associated with Hopkins the rest...

, was a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School and her mother, Helen Jones Rich, was a concert pianist until she married. Although Arnold Rich came from a Jewish family the girls were raised as Christians. Adrienne Rich's 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 father's library where she read the work of writers such as Ibsen Shuman (2002) p1278 Arnold
Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold was a British poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator...

, Blake
William Blake
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age...

, Keats
John Keats
John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

, Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement,...

, and Tennyson. 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 poems Sources and After Dark document her relationship with her father, describing how she worked hard to fulfill her parents' ambitions for her - moving into a world in which she was expected to excel.

In later years, Rich went to Roland Park Country School
Roland Park Country School
Roland Park Country School is an independent all-girls college preparatory school in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. It serves girls from Kindergarten through Grade 12...

, which she described as a "good old fashioned girls school [that] gave us fine role models of single women who were intellectually impassioned." Martin, Wendy (1984) An American triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich The University of North Carolina Press p174 ISBN 0-8078-4112-9 After graduating, Rich gained her college diploma at Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College
Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the coordinate college for Harvard University. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges. Radcliffe College conferred joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas beginning in 1963 and a formal merger agreement with...

, Harvard, where she focused primarily on poetry and learning writing craft, encountering no women teachers at all. In 1951, her last year at college, Rich's first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by the senior poet W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award; he went on to write the introduction to the published volume. Following her graduation, Rich received a Guggenheim Fellowship
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was founded in 1925 by Mr. and Mrs. Simon Guggenheim in memory of their son, who died April 26, 1922...

, to study in Oxford for a year. Following a visit to Florence, she decided to cut short her study at Oxford and spend her remaining time in Europe writing and exploring Italy.

Family life


In 1953, Rich married Alfred Haskell Conrad
Alfred Haskell Conrad
Alfred H. Conrad was a distinguished and popular professor of economics at Harvard University and City College of New York. He belonged to the quantitative economic current called New economic history....

, an economics professor at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, whom she had met as an undergraduate. She had 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 woman's life, whatever was possible." They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent...

 and had three sons - David in 1955 (now a graphic designer), Paul in 1957 (now an elementary school music teacher) and Jacob in 1959 (now a radio producer). In 1955 she published her second volume, The Diamond Cutters, a collection she says she wishes had not been published.

Her third collection, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, 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 Rich's 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 I'd really gone out on a limb [...] I realised I'd gotten slapped over the wrist, and I didn't attempt that kind of thing again for a long time."

She continued her travels during 1961 and 1962 with a second Guggenheim Fellowship to work at the Netherlands Economic Institute. In 1964, Rich joined the New Left
New Left
The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms, in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist...

 and in 1966, she moved with her family to New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, becoming involved in anti-war, civil rights and feminist activism; her husband took a teaching position at City College of New York
City College of New York
The City College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York , in New York City. It is also the oldest of the City University's twenty-three institutions of higher learning...

. In 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. Rich's activism and increasing politicisation are reflected the poems in her next three collections, Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971), also highlighting an expanding interest in poetic form. Rich, from this point forward, became increasingly represented with the women's movement. From 1967, Rich held positions at Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College is a private, independent, liberal arts college in the United States with an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The college is located in the borough of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia....

 and Columbia University School of the Arts
Columbia University School of the Arts
The Columbia University School of the Arts , also known simply as the School of the Arts or as SoA, is the division of the university that offers Master of Fine Arts degrees in Film, Visual Arts, Theatre Arts, and Writing, as well as a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies...

 and from 1968, with City College of New York. Increasingly militant, Rich hosted anti-Vietnam and Black Panther fundraising parties at their apartment; tensions began to split the marriage, Conrad fearing that his wife had lost her mind. The couple separated in mid-1970 and shortly afterward, in October, Conrad drove into the woods and shot himself.

Later life and sexuality


In coming out as a lesbian in 1976, Rich's feminist position crystallized. In this year she published the controversial volume Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. She wrote, "The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs," lesbianism pressing as a political as much as a personal imperative. The pamphlet Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), which was incorporated into the following year's Dream of a Common Language (1978), marked the first direct treatment of lesbian desire and sexuality in her work.A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981) and some of her late poems in The Fact of a Doorframe (2001) represent the capstone of this philosophical and political position. In her analytical work Adrienne 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". During this period, Rich also wrote a number of key socio-political essays, including "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
"Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" is a 1980 essay by Adrienne Rich, published in her 1986 book Blood, Bread, and Poetry.-Summary:...

", one of the first to address the theme of lesbian existence.Guardian article, profile: "Poet and pioneer". 15 June 2002. Accessed 2010-08-10 In this essay, she asks "how and why women's choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners, co-workers, lovers, community, has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding". Some of the essays were republished in On Lies, Secrets and Silence
On Lies, Secrets and Silence
On Lies, Secrets and Silence is a 310 page, non-fiction book authored by Adrienne Rich and published by W. W. Norton & Company in April, 1995. The book follows the author, Adrienne Rich telling and informing the readers about themes and aspects of her life and work. Other topics which the book...

: Selected Prose, 1966–1978
(1979). Rich shouted out her sexuality and took a role in leadership for sexual equality. Novelist and poet Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson OBE is a British novelist.-Early years:Winterson was born in Manchester and adopted on 21 January 1960. She was raised in Accrington, Lancashire, by Constance and John William Winterson...

 describes Rich's impact: "Since the 1960s, her poetry and her politics have come together to create involved, engaged, challenging writing".

In 1974, her collection Diving Into the Wreck won the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

 for Poetry, which she shared with Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

. Rich was joined by feminist poets Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender...

 and Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist.-Life:...

 to accept it on behalf of all women.Shuman (2002) p1276 In 1976, began a relationship with Jamaican-born novelist and editor Michelle Cliff
Michelle Cliff
Michelle Cliff is a Jamaican-American author whose notable works include No Telephone to Heaven, Abeng and Free Enterprise.Cliff also has written short stories, prose poems and works of literary criticism...

. Adrienne Rich taught at City College as well as Rutgers University
Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

 until 1979. She moved to Western Massachusetts with Cliff in the early 1980s. Ultimately, they moved to Northern California, where Rich continued her career as a professor, lecturer, poet, and essayist. Cliff and Rich took over editorship of the lesbian journal Sinister Wisdom in 1981. Rich taught and lectured at Scripps College
Scripps College
Scripps College is a progressive liberal arts women's college in Claremont, California, United States. It is a member of the Claremont Colleges. Scripps ranks 3rd for the nation's best women's college, ahead of Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, and Bryn Mawr College at 23rd on the list for...

, San Jose State University
San José State University
San Jose State University is a public university located in San Jose, California, United States...

, and Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

 during the 1980s and 1990s. From 1981 to 1987, Rich served as an A.D. White Professor-At-Large for Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

.

Both An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991) and Dark Fields of the Republic (1995) explore the relationship between private and public histories. During the 1990s Rich became an active member of numerous advisory boards such as the Boston Woman’s Fund, National Writers Union, Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa, and New Jewish Agenda. On the role of the poet, she has written, "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."

In 1997, Adrienne Rich refused the National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

, 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".Shuman (2002) p1281 The volume Midnight Salvage was published in 1999, as she turned 70.

Selected Awards and Honours

  • Yale Younger Poets Award (1950) for A Change of World.
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
    Guggenheim Fellowship
    Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...

     1952
  • National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1960)
  • Shelley Memorial Award
    Shelley Memorial Award
    The Shelley Memorial Award of more than $3,500, given out by the Poetry Society of America, was established by the will of the late Mary P. Sears, and named after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The prize is given to a living American poet selected with reference to genius and need. The selection is...

     (1970)
  • National Book Award for Poetry
    National Book Award for Poetry
    The National Book Award for Poetry has been given since 1950 and is part of the National Book Awards, which are given annually for outstanding literary works by American citizens...

     (1974) for Diving into the Wreck
  • Inaugural Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
    Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
    The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize is awarded annually by The Poetry Foundation; the Foundation also publishes Poetry. The Prize was established in 1986 by Ruth Lilly. The prize honors a living U.S. poet whose "lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition"; its value is presently $100,000...

     (1986)
  • Honorary doctorate from Harvard University
    Harvard University
    Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

     (1989)
  • National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry (1989)
  • William Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement (for gay or lesbian writing) (1990)
  • Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service
    Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service
    The Common Wealth Awards of Distinguished Service were created under the will of the late Ralph Hayes, an influential American business executive and philanthropist. Hayes conceived the awards to reward and encourage the best of human performance worldwide. Hayes served on the board of directors...

     (1991)
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

     (1991)
  • Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize (1992)
  • Poets' Prize
    Poets' Prize
    The Poets' Prize is awarded annually for the best book of verse published by a living American poet two years prior to the award year. The $3000 annual prize is donated by a committee of about 20 American poets, who each nominate two books and who also serve as judges...

     (1992) for Atlas of the Difficult World
  • Frost Medal
    Frost Medal
    The Robert Frost Medal is an award of the Poetry Society of America for "distinguished lifetime service to American poetry." Medalists receive a prize purse of $2,500....

     (1992)
  • Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1992)
  • MacArthur Fellowship (1994)
  • Wallace Stevens Award (1996)
  • National Medal of Arts
    National Medal of Arts
    The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

     (1997) (refused)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lannan Foundation (1999)
  • Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters: National Book Foundation
    National Book Foundation
    The National Book Foundation, founded in 1989, is an American nonprofit literary organization established "to raise the cultural appreciation of great writing in America." It achieves this through sponsoring the National Book Award, as well as the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American...

    , (2006)
  • Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize
    Griffin Poetry Prize
    The Griffin Poetry Prize is Canada's most generous poetry award. It was founded in 2000 by businessman and philanthropist Scott Griffin. The awards go to one Canadian and one international poet who writes in the English language....

     (2010)

Nonfiction

  • On Lies, Secrets and Silence
    On Lies, Secrets and Silence
    On Lies, Secrets and Silence is a 310 page, non-fiction book authored by Adrienne Rich and published by W. W. Norton & Company in April, 1995. The book follows the author, Adrienne Rich telling and informing the readers about themes and aspects of her life and work. Other topics which the book...

    : Selected Prose
    , 1966–1978, 1979
  • Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979–1985, 1986 (Includes the noted essay: "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
    Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
    "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" is a 1980 essay by Adrienne Rich, published in her 1986 book Blood, Bread, and Poetry.-Summary:...

    ")
  • What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, 1993
  • Poetry and Commitment: An Essay, 2007
  • A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997–2008, 2009

Further reading

  • Colby Langdell, Cheri (2004) Adrienne Rich: The Moment of Change Praeger ISBN 0-313-31605-8
  • Dana Gioia
    Dana Gioia
    -Poetry:It was as a poet that Gioia first began to attract widespread attention in the early 1980s, with frequent appearances in The Hudson Review, Poetry, and The New Yorker. In the same period, he published a number of essays and book reviews...

    , first published in San Francisco Magazine (January 1999) "Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995-1998"
  • Henneberg, Sylvia (2010) The Creative Crone: Aging and the Poetry of May Sarton and Adrienne Rich University of Missouri ISBN 0-8262-1861-X
  • Keyes, Claire (2008) The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich University of Georgia Press ISBN 0-8203-3351-4
  • Shuman, R. Baird (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century. Marshall Cavendish
  • Yorke, Liz (1998) Adrienne Rich: Passion, Politics and the Body Sage Publications ISBN 0-8039-7727-1

External links