It often surprises first-time readers of Margaret Anderson’s poetry, with its vivid re-creation of rural Appalachia, that the poet was born and raised in New York City. Her parents were both educators; her father taught English and her mother, political science. To develop their child’s artistic appetites, the couple took Anderson to museums and the theater, and lavished her with books. Anderson’s mother died when the girl was only eight, but the woman—a dedicated wife and mother who nevertheless managed significant professional success—would give the poet a model for the indomitable woman whose heroic presence would be at the center of much of her poetry. Young Anderson loved language; when she was ten, during an otherwise unremarkable creative writing exercise—she was to describe a tree—Maggie was most impressed by the word “bark” and developed a sophisticated conceit between a tree and a dog.
When Anderson was thirteen, her father moved the family to rural West Virginia (initially Buckhannon in central West Virginia, later Keyser near the Maryland border). Anderson’s father’s family had lived there for more than a century, and the girl had regularly summered there. Immediately, her creative appetite responded to the sweeping Appalachian landscape. She immersed herself not only in the rugged beauty of Appalachia’s natural expanses but also in its culture and its history. After two years (1966-1968) at West Virginia Wesleyan University, a small Methodist university near Buckhannon, Anderson transferred to West Virginia University at Morgantown, from which she received a B.A. in 1970 and an M.A. in 1973. However, Anderson had long been engaged by the people of rural West Virginia—she had listened to the stories her father’s family would tell of the hardscrabble life in the mining fields. From 1973 to 1975, Anderson taught in the adult creative writing program at the West Virginia Rehabilitation Center and then worked for two years as a counselor for...
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