Adrienne Rich

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Adrienne Rich 1929–

American poet, essayist, and drama writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Rich's career through 1998. See also Adrienne Rich Criticism (Volume 3), and Volumes 6, 7, 11.

An important poet of the post-World War II era, Rich writes highly crafted lyrics which explore socially relevant topics—including feminism and lesbianism—and criticize patriarchal societies and institutions. She also is an influential essayist whose prose works have advanced theories of feminist criticism. As an early proponent of societal changes that reflect the values and goals of women, Rich articulates one of the most profound poetic statements of the feminist movement in the United States. Her development of a relaxed form of free verse combined with formal diction has been seen by many critics as revolutionary and distinctive in American poetry. "Adrienne Rich's poetry has always raised important, difficult questions about the cultural uses of poetry and the ideology of poetic and critical tradition," according to Alice Templeton. "For over forty years her work has provided the occasion for critics to comment on the art of poetry, its political significance, the character of poetic tradition, and the value of poetry as a critical and creative cultural activity."

Biographical Information

Born May 16, 1929, in Baltimore, Maryland, Rich was home-schooled until the fourth grade, but she showed an early interest in writing and availed herself of her father's extensive Victorian literature collection. Rich graduated from Radcliffe College in 1951, the same year she published her first poetry collection, A Change of World, which garnered the Yale Series of Younger Poets award. She accepted a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1952 and traveled to England and throughout Europe. When she returned the next year, she married Harvard University economist Alfred H. Conrad. Upon the birth of her first son in 1955 Rich published her second poetry collection, The Diamond Cutters, but by 1959, Rich was the mother of three sons and had little time for writing. However, the publication of Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law in 1963 marked her poetic breakthrough to national prominence, particularly because of its overt delineation of female themes. In 1966 Rich moved with her family to New York City, where she became active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. During that time she pro-duced the poetry collections Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971). By 1969 she was estranged from her husband, who committed suicide the following year. During the early 1970s Rich devoted much time to the women's liberation movement and gradually identified herself as a radical feminist. She won the National Book Award in 1974 for Diving into the Wreck (1973), but she refused it as an individual and instead accepted it on behalf of women whose voices were silenced. Rich came out as a lesbian in 1976, at which time she advocated a female separatist philosophy in her subsequent poetry collections Twenty-one Love Poems (1977), The Dream of a Common Language (1978), and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981). She displayed a similar philosophy in The Fact of a Doorframe (1984), as well as in the essays collected in Of Woman Born (1976) and On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979). During the 1980s Rich broadened her audience by addressing such diverse issues as poverty, violence, and racism in Your Native Land, Your Life (1986), Blood, Bread and Poetry (1986), and Time's Power (1988). Throughout her writing career Rich has honed her feminist, lesbian aesthetic by lecturing at American universities, most notably as professor of English and feminist studies at Stanford University from 1986 to 1992. Since then Rich has received numerous accolades, including the Robert Frost Silver Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry and the William Whithead Award of the Gay and Lesbian Publishing Triangle for Life-time Achievement in Letters. Following her award-winning poetry...

(The entire section is 29,348 words.)