Carolyn Kizer was born December 10, 1925, in Spokane, Washington, the only child of exceptional parents, Mabel Ashley Kizer and Benjamin Hamilton Kizer. Her mother had earned a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University in 1904, taught at Mills College and San Francisco State while helping three younger brothers through college, administered the first federally sponsored drug clinic in New York, and worked as an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. She was in her mid-forties by the time she met and married Benjamin, a well-established Spokane lawyer and regional planner. Kizer’s recollections of her childhood convey ambivalent feelings toward her distinguished but difficult parents. Her father’s emotionally remote, authoritarian personality intimidated and disturbed her, yet she feels profound respect for his integrity, self-discipline, and achievements. Her brilliant mother’s abandonment of a career for a near-neurotic obsession with her daughter, especially with her daughter’s “creativity,” also dismayed Kizer. She confesses that her mother’s demands and expectations hampered her, and that she could come into her own as a serious poet only after her mother’s death. Yet she also pays tribute to her mother as beloved muse: “I wrote the poems for her. I still do.”
After receiving a B.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1945, Kizer began graduate studies at Columbia University, where she became a fellow of the Chinese...
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