Heather McHugh was born in San Diego, California, in 1948, and reared in Gloucester Point, Virginia. By the age of five, she had written her first poems, demonstrating a precocious affinity for language that made her especially receptive to the grammar-intensive curriculum at the small Catholic school she began attending shortly thereafter. In the ninth grade, she resolved to matriculate early, a feat she accomplished by being accepted at Harvard at sixteen.
She graduated from the university in 1970 “with distinction,” but an even greater distinction was soon to follow: the publishing of an unsolicited poem in the New Yorker. This feat played a significant role in McHugh’s acceptance as a graduate student by the University of Denver, from which she received an M.A. in 1972. Perhaps more important, she had also taught her first classes. The combination of writing and teaching would comprise her professional parameters in the decades that followed.
A fellowship at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts enabled her to complete her first book, Dangers, which was published by Houghton Mifflin as part of its New Poetry series in 1977. The acknowledgments published in her second collection, A World of Difference, reflected the seriousness with which her work was being taken. Besides three more New Yorker pieces, the book included poems previously published...
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