Jane Hirshfield Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City to Robert Hirshfield and Harriet Hirshfield. Her father was a clothing manufacturer, and her mother was a secretary. From her childhood, Hirshfield wanted to be a writer. After her first book was published, her mother showed Hirshfield a note written on large lined paper from the first grade in which the young Hirshfield had written, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” Her first poem was published in 1973, after she graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with an independent major in creative writing and literature in translation. She was part of Princeton’s first graduating class to include women. Despite early publication, she withdrew from the writing life to study at the San Francisco Zen Center for eight years. In 1979, she was lay-ordained in the lineage of Soto Zen and left the life of withdrawal. After that time, Hirshfield devoted her life to writing, translation, and editing, earning numerous awards and grants. From 1991 to 1998, she served as lecturer in creative writing at the University of San Francisco and served as visiting associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1995. In 1999, she joined the core M.F.A. faculty of Bennington College. In 2000, she was Elliston Visiting Poetry Professor at the University of Cincinnati.


(Poetry for Students)

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. Her father was a clothing manufacturer and her mother was a secretary. Even as a young child, she knew she wanted to be a writer and poet when she grew up and recalls writing a sentence to that effect when prompted by a grade school teacher asking the children about future careers. The first book she bought for herself at age nine was a collection of haiku poetry, evidence of not only her early interest in that genre but also in Japanese writing and culture. Hirshfield graduated from a girls’ school in New York and then went on to Princeton from which she graduated magna cum laude in 1973. Also in 1973, she published her first poem, but, in an unlikely move, she put aside her writing for the next eight years to study at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Hirshfield has said that the years she dedicated exclusively to learning and practicing Zen Buddhism have had the most significant influence on everything she has done since—from writing and teaching to her quiet, loving enjoyment of gardening and horses. But the religion of Zen rarely manifests itself in any direct way in Hirshfield’s poetry. She does not use Zen language or make overt Zen references, and yet her writing is unmistakably radiant of the introspective, peaceful, and attentive thought that makes up Zen philosophy. After leaving the center in San Francisco in the early 1980s, Hirshfield began to write and teach, and her work began earning...

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