Florence Anthony Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ai (pronounced “i”) was born with the name Florence Anthony; she has also used the names Pelorhanke Ai Ogawa and Florence Haynes. She describes her ancestry as being one-half Japanese, one-fourth black, one-eighth Choctaw, and one-sixteenth Irish. Her Japanese heritage derived from her father, a man with whom her mother had an extramarital affair; Ai learned about him when she was twenty-six years old. Ai spent part of her childhood in Texas with her great-grandparents and then lived in Las Vegas and San Francisco with her mother. She was raised as a Catholic and attended parochial schools. She began to use her middle name, Ai (which means “love” in Japanese), as her complete and legal name in 1969. Among the awards she has accumulated during her career are the prestigious Lamont Poetry Selection Award for the best second book by an American poet for Killing Floor, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Fellowship, an award from the Before Columbus Foundation for Sin, and the National Book Award for poetry for Vice. She has taught extensively, including being poet-in-residence at Arizona State University and a visiting associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She also does lecture tours and readings.{$S[A]Anthony, Florence;Ai}{$S[A]Ogawa, Pelorhanke Ai;Ai}{$S[A]Haynes, Florence;Ai}

Resistant to participation in the black student culture of the late 1960’s, with which she felt no kinship, Ai turned to her Japanese heritage for identification and direction in her studies at the University of Arizona. While there, she attained a B.A. in English/Oriental studies and began a friendship with the poet Galway Kinnell, who encouraged her to go to the University of California at Irvine for her M.F.A. In 1973, her first book, Cruelty, was published. The poems in Cruelty are in the format of dramatic monologues, as are all her poetic works; that is, they are first-person narratives written from the point of view of the character the poem is about. The personalities in Cruelty are anonymous, poverty-ridden people whose lives are intertwined with wrenching violence. The poems discuss difficult and harsh subjects—birth, abortion, child-beating, murder—in clean, spare, matter-of-fact language and without judgment. The book was alternately praised as a stunning new voice and criticized as a “pornography of pain.” No one, however, denied the energy of the poet’s voice, which marked...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ai was born Florence Anthony in Texas in 1947. She did not learn the identity of her biological father until she was well into her twenties. The revelation both shocked and distressed her. Her mother, a married sixteen-year-old, met a Japanese man, Michael Ogawa, at a streetcar stop and, during a brief affair, conceived Florence. When her mother’s husband learned of the affair, he began a round of beatings that left family members in a constant state of terror. When Florence realized that her mother’s husband was not her father, she changed her name to Ai, which means “love” in Japanese, and embarked on a multicultural identity quest that at times had her feeling she belonged nowhere. She was neither black nor white. She called herself one-half Japanese, one-eighth Choctaw, one-quarter black, and one-sixteenth Irish. When black children at school taunted her as a “nigger-jap,” she decided to concentrate on her Japanese heritage. She earned a B.A. in Oriental studies from the University of Arizona in 1969 and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine, in 1971. She married fellow poet Lawrence Kearney in 1975, and they later divorced. During periods of professional unemployment, she found jobs as an antique dealer in New York City, a jewelry designer, and a costume modeler.

She has held teaching positions at many institutions, including the University of Massachusetts and the State University of New York, Binghamton. She was a visiting poet at Wayne State University (1977-1978) and at George Mason University (1986-1987), a writer-in-residence at Arizona State University (1988-1989), an associate professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder in (1996-1997), and the Witte Chair in Creative Writing at Southwest Texas State University (2002-2003). She became a professor at Oklahoma State University in 2004.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The poet now known as Ai was born Florence Anthony in Albany, Texas, on October 21, 1947. Her mother was sixteen at the time, and married, but Ai was born out of wedlock. She did not know who her father was until she was twenty-six.

Ai’s ancestry was a mixture of Choctaw, Caucasian, Japanese, and Filipino. Although Anthony clearly looked black, as did her mother, she found it difficult in early life to identify with any particular ethnic group. She was born at her grandparents’ house after her mother’s husband had found out about his wife’s affair and had beaten his wife in retribution.

Anthony was sent to an “integrated” Catholic school in Albany that was, in fact, largely black; there, she was taunted by her schoolmates (she has remembered being called a “nigger-jap,” among other things). She therefore rejected her obvious ethnic background and adopted the name of Ai, the Japanese word for love. Her first academic degree, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona awarded in 1969, was in Oriental Studies.

In 1971, Ai earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of California; about that time, she began writing poetry under her adopted name. Along the way, she worked at a variety of jobs, including modeling and teaching.

Ai’s unconventional beginnings and her rage at having no ethnic “home” are clearly reflected in her poetry. As part of no particular ethnic group, she shunned established ways of viewing the world, and her anger and her sense of homelessness permeated her work.

When her first...

(The entire section is 659 words.)