Marge Piercy Piercy, Marge (Vol. 128)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Marge Piercy 1936-

American novelist, poet, essayist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Piercy's career through 1998. For further information on Piercy's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 6, 14, 18, 27, and 62.

Among the most distinguished contemporary feminist writers, Marge Piercy is recognized as a trenchant poet and novelist whose work is infused with explicit political statement and social critique. Her direct, highly personal writing, informed by her experiences as a radical political activist during the 1960s and 1970s, condemns the victimization—both physical and psychological—of women and other marginalized individuals under the patriarchal, capitalist ideologies of mainstream American society. Piercy's best known novels, including Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Braided Lives (1982), and Gone to Soldiers (1987), reveal her ability to convey such themes in genres ranging from science fiction to social realism and historical fiction. An outspoken feminist and humanitarian, Piercy emphasizes the utilitarian aspect of her work as a vehicle for effective communication, evident in the colloquial, polemical tone of her fiction and free verse.

Biographical Information

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Piercy was raised by her Welsh father, a machinist, and Jewish mother in a working-class neighborhood of the city; Piercy also had an older half-brother, her mother's child from a previous marriage. While Piercy's creativity was inspired by her mother's curiosity and maternal grandmother's storytelling, her political consciousness was forged by the repressive social climate and economic disparities she experienced during her formative years. Piercy won a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan, becoming the first member of her family to receive a college education. While at Michigan she won Hopwood Awards in poetry and fiction and became involved in radical politics. She traveled to France after completing her A.B. in 1957, then enrolled at Northwestern University where she earned her M.A. degree in 1958. While living in Chicago, Piercy worked odd jobs to support her writing and taught at the Gary extension of Indiana University from 1960-62. Her first marriage to a French-Jewish physicist was short-lived; she remarried in 1962, though this unconventional, open relationship deteriorated by the mid-1970s.

During the 1960s, Piercy became active in the civil rights and antiwar movements as an organizer for the left-wing political organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), though shifted her allegiance to the women's movement by the end of the decade. She published her first volume of poetry, Breaking Camp (1968), and first novel, Going Down Fast (1969), during this period. Piercy won the Borestone Mountain Poetry award in 1968 and 1974. She worked as a writer-in-residence and visiting lecturer at various colleges during the 1970s, and held professorships at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the University of Cincinnati. After moving between Boston, San Francisco, and New York, Piercy finally settled in rural Cape Cod, where she has made her home since 1971. Piercy married writer Ira Wood, her third husband, in 1982, with whom she has collaborated on several works. She won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and many additional honors, including the Orion Scott Award in the Humanities, the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize in 1986 and 1990, a Shaeffer Eaton-PEN New England award in 1989, the Golden Rose Poetry Prize in 1990, the May Sarton Award in 1991, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1993 for He, She, and It (1991).

Major Works

Piercy's fiction and poetry is a direct expression of her feminist and leftist political commitments. In language that is alternately realistic, didactic, and poetic, Piercy repeatedly draws attention to the suffering of the socially persecuted—women, the poor, racial minorities, lesbians—and the mercenary ethics of their oppressors—the government,...

(The entire section is 58,109 words.)