Marge Piercy Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Marge Piercy was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and lived with her parents in a working-class neighborhood. Her Welsh father, Robert Piercy, repaired heavy machinery for the Westinghouse Corporation. Her mother, Bert Bernice Bunnin Piercy, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Russia. Piercy had one sibling, her half-brother, Grant. Piercy was raised in the Jewish tradition by her grandmother and mother. Her 1999 publication The Art of Blessing the Day reflects that connection to her Jewish roots.

Political activism was a part of Piercy’s family history. Her maternal grandfather, a labor organizer, was killed while attempting to unionize bakery workers. During adolescence, Piercy had a stormy relationship with her mother, but later said her mother made her a poet. Storytelling was a part of what Piercy termed her “family culture.” Her Jewish heritage, the poverty of her childhood, and a bout with German measles and rheumatic fever that left her a thin and sickly child set Piercy apart from other children. In her loneliness, she turned to books and cats. Later, she became an avid storyteller, inventing elaborate action plots that helped her establish relationships with the neighborhood boys during her junior high school years.

After graduation from a Detroit high school, Piercy entered the University of Michigan on an academic scholarship. She performed well scholastically, motivated by her native curiosity and intelligence, but she rejected the cultural conformity of the...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Marge Piercy grew up in a Detroit middle-class neighborhood during the 1950’s. She was reared in a typical patriarchal family in which her father worked away from home and her mother was home to care for the house and the children. As a child she loved to write stories and poetry even though she was told by her family and her culture that she was wasting her time. The message was that girls and women could not become serious writers because of their predestined role as wives and mothers.

Piercy’s persistence became stronger as she completed her graduate education at the University of Michigan. Her female character Miriam, in the novel Small Changes, seems to be a fictionalized account of the young Piercy. Since the completion of her formal education she has become one of the most prolific writers to chronicle the massive changes that were happening to women and the world during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Piercy has used her own experiences as background for her characters. As she wrote, society began to understand the realities that white, middle-class women were experiencing. Her work has become one of the foremost records of women’s history of that time. Piercy uses psychological and cultural language to tell her story and examines the effect that cultural and political changes have on ordinary people. As a result, her work can be understood and related to as significant documentation. Piercy is a master at using the power of language to create herself and, as a result, the characters defined in her writing.


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Marge Piercy spent her formative years in a small house in a working-class neighborhood. She almost died from the German measles and then caught rheumatic fever halfway through grade school. She looked to books for consolation and became a voracious reader. At age seventeen, she won a scholarship that paid her tuition to the University of Michigan. In 1956, she received the Avery and Jule Hopwood Award for Poetry and Fiction and, in 1957, received the same award for poetry. The same year, she earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan. In 1958, she earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University.

The 1960’s

From 1960 to 1962, Piercy taught literature, freshman composition, and research methods at the Gary extension of Indiana University. At the end of that period, she and her second husband grew increasingly troubled by the Vietnam War, and Piercy became an active member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) from 1965 to 1969 and a member of the North American Congress on Latin America from 1966 to 1967.

During breaks in political organizing, Piercy worked on her first book of poems, Breaking Camp (1968), in which she explored the ideas of racial and gender equity and nature versus industry. In her first novel, Going Down Fast (1969), she addressed political concerns of the time, particularly in regard to race and socioeconomic class. Her second book of poems, Hard Loving (1969), showed her continuing interest in feminist issues, especially the ways that women view their bodies and are viewed by others.

Later Life

When Dance the Eagle to Sleep was published in 1970, Piercy was still frustrated by the ongoing Vietnam War, which she and many others had been opposing for eight years. She also continued her involvement in the women’s movement, organizing consciousness-raising groups and writing articles. Piercy’s work continues to describe the dynamics of male-female relationships and the human need for intimacy. In her book of poems What Are Big Girls Made Of? (1997), she discusses...

(The entire section is 886 words.)