Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012

  • Adrienne-Rich-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education, Activism & Feminism, and Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: Educator, Greater Boston Women, LGBTQ, and Poet

  • HerStory

    An award-winning American poet, essayist, and feminist thought influencer, who was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century.”

    During her long and productive career, Rich published more than 30 books of poetry and essays. In her writing, she explored issues of gender, racism, consumerism, class privilege, and politics. She was considered a radical figure in Second Wave Feminism, yet she was accepted by the institutions, won many awards, and is now considered a classic. The first one was for the collection of poetry, which she published at 22. The same year she graduated from Radcliffe College.
    Adrienne Cecile Rich was born in Baltimore, MD, and over the years she taught English, poetry, and creative writing at several institutions, including Swarthmore College, Columbia University, City College of New York, and Scripps College in Claremont.
    Among her most influential works, were two texts that dissected heterosexuality and motherhood as socially constructed institutions. In both cases, she provided a critical perspective toward every woman’s freedom to choose. In the case of Compulsory Heterosexuality, for example, she presented the notion of Lesbian Continuum as an alternative way of thinking about the variety of relationships between women.
    Both in her poetry and her non-fiction writing, the honestly spoke of taboos, like that of motherhood. In her book “Of Woman Born”, she points out to the difference between motherhood as an experience and an imposed political institution. Her mother was a concert pianist who put her career aside to raise her family, while her father developed his career as an academic. Rich embodied the feeling that she was the benefactor of her mother’s sacrifice.
    When awarded the 1973 National Book Award, she declared that she accepted it on behalf of all women and shared it with her fellow nominees, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. In 1997 she refused the National Medal of Arts, she did so to express her critique of the Clinton administration. Her famous quote from the refusal letter stated: “art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage”.
    By her thirties, she was married and had three children. After her husband’s suicide, she had a relationship with novelist and poet Michelle Cliff.

    “The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me”

    “The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her father was Jewish, and her mother a Protestant, she was raised as a Christian. Her mother died at the age of 103.
    • She coined the term “women’s liberation” instead of “feminism” to avoid the label.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Her poetry books


    * Yale Younger Poets Award
    * Bollingen Prize
    * Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award
    * Academy of American Poets Fellowship
    * Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
    * Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
    * National Book Award

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Meet the Poet: Adrienne Rich

    Adrienne Rich reads from her and discusses her poetry. She is introduced by Lawrence Rosenwald, Anne Pierce Rogers Professor of English, Wellesley College

  • Rich in 1980. Photo credit - Wikipedia.