Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 886

Early Life

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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 both the personal and political implications of sexual harassment and other subjects including her Jewish heritage.

Moving to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod in 1971 made Piercy even more aware of the relationship between people and nature and how the environment must be protected. Her work examines the ways in which humanity is negligent and cruel in its treatment of nature, including animals.

Piercy explored new territory in her novel, City of Darkness, City of Light (1996), portraying the French revolution as the beginning of modern politics and feminism and an example of a capitalist society in which the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class is disproportionately taxed.

Impact

One of the most politically progressive writers of her time, Piercy has helped to make nontraditional poetic subjects such as sexuality and the domestic realm acceptable and even celebrated in literature. In her poetry and novels, she explores how the lives of common women are uncommonly rich and complex and how ethnic heritage plays a crucial role in the development of one’s identity.

Bibliography

Cooperman, Jeanette. The Broom Closet: Secret Meanings of Domesticity in Postfeminist Novels by Louise Erdrich, Mary Gordon, Toni Morrison, Marge Piercy, Jane Smiley, and Amy Tan. New York: P. Lang, 1999. A combination of cultural and literary analysis of the tropes of domesticity in these writers’ work.

Doherty, Patricia. Marge Piercy: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. A thorough bibliography of primary and secondary sources, including electronic resources.

Godwin, Michelle Gerise. “Marge Piercy.” The Progressive 65, no. 1 (2001): 27-30. Godwin describes her encounter with Marge Piercy at a poetry reading for the Worcester Women’s History Conference. The interview contains the author’s impressions as well as Piercy’s commentary on her life and work.

Michael, Magali Cornier. Feminism and the Postmodern Impulse: Post-World War II Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Robinson, Lillian S., ed. Modern Women Writers. Vol. 3. New York: Continuum, 1996. This reference volume provides an overview of eight critical articles relating to Piercy’s works from 1970 to 1985. The entry includes excerpts from essays by Jean Rosenbaum and Margaret Atwood.

Rodden, John. “A Harsh Day’s Light: An Interview with Marge Piercy.” The Kenyon Review 20, no. 2 (1998): 132-143. Rodden recounts his visit to Piercy’s home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He relates Piercy’s conversation about her past and her art, including comments concerning particular works.

Shand, Kerstin. The Repair of the World: The Novels of Marge Piercy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Analyzes Piercy’s novels up through The Longings of Women. Looks at her analysis of power patterns in intimate relationships and in society, and constructions of sexuality and gender as they relate to issues of class and ethnicity.

Wainer, Nora R. “Women Writers of the Left: Le Sueur, Piercy, and Lessing.” Against the Current 3, no. 3 (1985): 17-21. Wainer discusses ways in which women writers are noted as feminists and ignored for their politics. Her focus is the radicalism of Piercy’s novels Small Changes, Vida, and Braided Lives in conjunction with the themes of Meridel Le Sueur and Doris Lessing.

Walker, Sue, and Eugenia Hamner, eds. Ways of Knowing: Essays on Marge Piercy. Mobile, Ala.: Negative Capability Press, 1992. The collection includes thirteen perceptive essays discussing Piercy’s poetry and fiction. An extensive bibliography details the author’s publications and includes comprehensive lists of reviews and critical essays related to Piercy’s work.

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