Marilyn Hacker

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Marilyn Hacker was educated at the Bronx High School of Science, at Washington Square College of New York University, and at the Art Students League. She has lived in New York, Mexico City, San Francisco, and London, and has come to divide her time between Manhattan and Paris. Her marriage to science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany did not survive their mutual acknowledgment of homosexuality, and Hacker has lived since the mid-1980’s with her life partner, Karyn London. Many aspects of her life, especially the evolution of her relationship with her daughter, Iva, and her mother (whose death is the subject of the fine “Mother” and “Mother II” in Assumptions); her battle with breast cancer; her witness to the ravages of human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV-AIDS); as well as the intricacies of friendship, travel, and the vicissitudes of love, form the subjects of her poetic work.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Marilyn Hacker is one of the most diverse, talented contemporary poets of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her distinguished stratification of work inspired poet Rafael Campo to refer to her as an “award-winning poet, political activist, editor, and literary formalist.” Hacker’s innovative poetic forms and autobiographical, raw subject matter infuse her work with jagged but irresistible energy. Her expert employment of forms and her clever, straightforward voice assures her permanent status as a master of poetic craft.

Hacker is the only daughter of working-class Jewish parents from the Bronx of New York. Her mother received a master’s degree in chemistry, aspiring to train as a physician, but was denied admission into medical school, being both a woman and a Jew. Her father, an industrial chemist, was never continually employed. Hacker’s mother taught within the New York public schools and solely supported the family. Her father died at forty-eight from pancreatic cancer not long after receiving a teaching position at City College of New York (CCNY). Marilyn Hacker later became a professor at CCNY, directing the master of arts program in creative writing and English literature.

The scare availability of resources following the Great Depression and World War II prompted Hacker, during her childhood, to seek libraries for entertainment. Reading classic plays, fiction, and volumes of poetry established an early foundation for academic success. She attended the Bronx High School of Science and began studying French. Her keen intellect afforded her enrollment at New York University (NYU) at fifteen. She spent the summer preceding her freshman year taking French literature survey courses at Hunter College, to qualify for French scholar Germaine Bree’s courses on twentieth century French theater and philosophy.

Hacker studied French, existentialism, science, and calculus at NYU. She married science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany, despite his homosexuality, the year before her graduation and left NYU, taking jobs in commercial editing. Hacker eventually returned to college, completing her bachelor of arts in romance languages; giving birth to a daughter, Iva; and later divorcing Delany. The coming years marked a difficult transition for her, from heterosexual wife to outspoken lesbian activist.

Hacker did not begin publishing her work until age twenty-six, her first piece accepted by Cornell University’s Epoch magazine. Her United States audience grew steadily and, after her 1970 move to London, became transatlantic. There, news arrived that three poems were selected for the New American Review, edited by Richard Howard.

Howard, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and translator of French verse, became Hacker’s mentor and helped circulate her early manuscripts. In 1974, Viking Press published Hacker’s Presentation Piece , quickly recognized for its candid, lyric voice, which captured the 1974 Lamont Poetry Selection of the...

(The entire section is 900 words.)