Linda Pastan has produced an important body of work that has received both critical and popular acclaim as well as numerous awards. Born Linda Olenic to Jacob L. Olenic, a surgeon, and Bess Schwartz Olenic, Pastan grew up the only surviving child of parents who professed an uncompromising atheism despite their eastern European Jewish descent. Still, her childhood in the Bronx was saturated with the domestic details and cultural expectations of Old World Jewry.
Pastan attended the Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, a progressive private school affiliated with the Ethical Cultural Society, a humanist organization for free-thinking Jews. Ethics was an important part of the curriculum, starting in the lower grades with courses emphasizing the Greek myths as moral paradigms. Later, these mythical heroes and gods would appear in her poetry as archetypes.
After completing Fieldston, Pastan attended Radcliffe College, where she majored in literature and won Mademoiselle’s Dylan Thomas Award in her senior year. In 1953, she married Ira Pastan, a medical student, and received her B.A. in English the following year. The couple remained in the Boston area until 1958, while Pastan completed a library science degree at Simmons College and an M.A. in English at Brandeis University. During the next decade, Pastan immersed herself in domestic life and bore two daughters and a son. During this period she wrote no poetry, but by the end of the 1960’s, determined to break out of her creative hiatus, she began to produce a remarkable number of poems that were published in some of the finest literary journals. These efforts culminated in the publication of A Perfect Circle of Sun, a first collection that anticipated many themes that Pastan was to develop...
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Linda Pastan was born Linda Olenic, the daughter of Jacob L. Olenic and Bess Schwartz Olenic. Her father, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, was a surgeon, and Pastan married a molecular biologist, Ira Pastan, in 1953. She earned a B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1954, an M.L.S. from Simmons College in 1955, and an M.A. from Brandeis University in 1957. Pastan, her husband, and their three children settled in the Maryland countryside, near Potomac.
Pastan has been poetry editor of the literary magazine Voyages, has lectured at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, and has taught graduate workshops in poetry at American University. From 1986 to 1989, Pastan served on the governing board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Although Pastan received recognition for her poetry while a student, winning Mademoiselle’s Dylan Thomas Award (winning against Sylvia Plath), she did not work regularly on her poetry for ten years and did not publish a collection until 1971. Since that time, her books have appeared regularly, and she has received other prizes as well as critical praise in leading literary journals. Pastan has acknowledged the influence and support of the poet William Stafford and has been labeled a postconfessional poet, interested in sincerity as well as going beyond the personal.