Maxine Kumin Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Maxine Kumin was born Maxine Winokur of Jewish parents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1925 and educated as a child at a Catholic convent school. She describes herself as an agnostic who believes passionately in poetry. Kumin’s father, Peter Winokur, was a successful pawnbroker. As a teenager, Kumin trained to become an Olympic swimmer, but she abandoned this dream on entrance to Radcliffe College, which lacked suitable training facilities. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1946 and a master’s in 1948, both from Radcliffe, but did not begin writing seriously until her late twenties, when, as a suburban housewife with small children, she turned to poetry for self-gratification. She met the poet Sexton at a writing workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education, and the two women developed a close personal and professional relationship, each installing an extra telephone line in her home so they could talk at length.

Kumin began her teaching career in 1958 at Tufts University in Massachusetts and has taught as visiting lecturer at Radcliffe, Columbia University, Amherst College, Princeton University, and Bucknell University, among others. She has been on the staffs of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (on numerous occasions) and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and she served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress from 1981 to 1982. In 1983, she traveled with the United States Information Agency on its Arts America Tour. Her academic appointments include stints at many colleges and universities, and in 1995-1998, she served as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She and her husband and three children settled on a horse farm in New Hampshire. In 1998, she sustained injuries during a horse-riding competition that were severe enough that the most frequent outcome is severe disability or death. However, she recovered, and that experience, she says, has contributed to her poetic wisdom.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Maxine Kumin (KYEW-muhn) is best known for her work as a poet and received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1973 for her volume Up Country. She was born Maxine Winokur in Philadelphia. She attended Radcliffe College, where she received an A.B. in 1946 and an A.M. in 1948. On June 29, 1946, she married Victor Kumin, and they had three children.

Although Maxine Kumin began writing poetry when she was eight years old, she did not publish her first book of poetry, Halfway, until 1961, when she was thirty-six. The collection established many of the important themes that she continued to explore in her later work. Kumin is a poet firmly connected to the natural world, and Halfway includes poems that speak to the cycles of life and death. By using her own family history and personal experience, she emphasizes the universality of the human condition.

Like many poets of her era, Kumin has at times been a teacher of English. From 1958 to 1961, she was an instructor and lecturer at Tufts University, and in the spring of 1975 she was an adjunct professor of writing at Columbia University. She has also served as a visiting lecturer at Washington University, Princeton University, and the University of Massachusetts, among many others. Unlike many other poets of her generation, however, Kumin has not relied solely upon the university system for her financial security. Her work as a writer of children’s books and novels, although not critically acclaimed, has provided financial remuneration in ways poetry simply cannot.

Over the course of her career, Kumin has received numerous awards...

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(Poetry for Students)

Maxine Kumin was born Maxine Winokur in Philadelphia on June 6, 1925, and has spent most of her life in New England. She earned bachelor’s...

(The entire section is 427 words.)