Lisel Mueller was born Lisel Neumann in Hamburg, Germany, to Fritz C. Neumann and Illse Burmester Neumann, both teachers. Leaving her grandparents behind, her immediate family fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and settled in Evansville, Indiana. Mueller was blessed with a set of parents who were, according to Mueller, “wholly and blessedly gender-blind.” Mueller characterizes her mother as “feminine in the sense that she was warm, outgoing, and impulsive, but she was totally ignorant of ’feminine wiles,’ such as manipulation of, and deference to, men.” It was only when Mueller moved to Evansville, Indiana, at the age of fifteen that she discovered the more traditional roles of women and gender discrimination.
In 1943, Lisel Neumann married Paul Mueller, an editor, and they had two daughters, Lucy and Jenny. Although Mueller would dabble in poetry while in college, preparing for a social-work career, she began to write serious poetry only after the death of her mother in 1953. Many years later she explained, in her poem “When I Am Asked,” why she began writing poetry: On a beautiful June day shortly after her mother died, Mueller discovered that she had to place her grief “in the mouth of language,/ the only thing that would grieve with me.”
Mueller has worked as an instructor of creative writing at Elmhurst College, Goddard College, and the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers. She is a self-taught poet, strongly influenced by...
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