Muriel Rukeyser Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111206427-Rukeyser.jpg Muriel Rukeyser. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Muriel Rukeyser was born on December 15, 1913, in New York City to Lawrence B. and Myra (Lyons) Rukeyser. Her father was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and cofounded a building business. Her mother was from Yonkers, New York. Muriel Rukeyser was brought up as the sheltered daughter of her affluent parents, spending time at yacht clubs, camps, and symphonies. Despite her privileged childhood, she grew up with a sense of the larger world: Her toddler years coincided with World War I, and she was a teenager when the stock market crashed in 1929. The activism of Rukeyser’s adult years was a complete rejection of her former protected existence.

Even as a child, Rukeyser wrote poems, although the only people she knew who read any poetry were servants. Rukeyser continued writing poetry during her high-school years, attempting to reconcile normal adolescent troubles with her feelings about the outrages in the newspaper headlines. The executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (two Italian immigrant anarchists convicted of murder and theft) in August, 1927, even after worldwide protest on their behalf, made a powerful impression on the adolescent Rukeyser.

After high school, Rukeyser attended Vassar College, Columbia University, and Roosevelt Aviation School. As she wrote in The Life of Poetry (1949), her “first day at college ended childhood.” She began to write the poems that would be published in her first book while cofounding (with Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, and Eleanor Clark) a literary magazine called Student Review to protest the policies of the established Vassar Review.

Rukeyser frequently contributed to Student Review; as part of this work, she drove to Alabama in 1932 to report on the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men who were accused of raping two white girls during the spring of 1931. Rukeyser viewed the resulting death sentence as evidence of a dual system of American justice, which discriminated against the poor and the nonwhite. While in Alabama, Rukeyser...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Rukeyser merged her personal vision with her political vision and wrote poems of remarkable intensity. Her work was so linked to current events that one critic claimed that the whole of twentieth century history could be learned by reading Rukeyser’s work. Though noted for her poems of social protest, Rukeyser also wrote deeply personal poems, incorporating such diverse elements as scientific language and mysticism, all in a unique lyrical, demanding style. One of her most unique traits was her optimism: While describing the injustices and the horrors of her times, Rukeyser usually was able to express faith in the potential of civilization, wonder at the beauty of the world, and love for humanity.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Muriel Rukeyser’s poetic career began early with the publication of Theory of Flight in the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1935. Her poetry reflected her intense personal passion, her call to freedom, and her search for justice. Readers may detect the influence of Walt Whitman in her sense of American identity as something all-embracing.

Rukeyser’s sense of personal responsibility and social protest may have been forged by her political experience. Two years before her first book of poetry was published, while covering the Scottsboro trials for Vassar College’s leftist Student Review, Rukeyser was arrested—and caught typhoid fever while in jail. This event ignited her social awareness as evidenced in her writing and subsequent actions. This particular event is recalled as “The Trial” in Theory of Flight.

Wherever Rukeyser saw oppression, she became involved. To an extent, the social and political history of the United States, as distilled through the reactions of a female Jewish intellectual activist, may be read through Rukeyser’s poems. She supported the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. Later, she was jailed while protesting the Vietnam War. She rallied in South Korea against the death sentence of the poet Kim Chi-ha. The event then became the focus of her poem, “The Gates.”

Bringing the perspective of her Jewish upbringing to her poetry, Rukeyser wrote about the horrors of World War II. Though her concern about the oppression of the Jews may have stemmed personally from her religion, she had already demonstrated her global concern about fascism.

Rukeyser’s early marriage did not last; later she became the single parent of a son. Although motherhood became a subject in her poetry and she wrote about women from a feminist perspective, Rukeyser was never as singly feminist in her poetry as others of her generation. Still, her influence as a woman writer on those who followed her was acknowledged by Anne Sexton, who named her “Muriel, mother of everyone,” and who kept Rukeyser’s The Speed of Darkness on her desk.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Muriel Rukeyser was born on December 15, 1913, in New York City, the daughter of Lawrence B. Rukeyser, a cofounder of Colonial Sand and Stone, and Myra Lyons, a former bookkeeper. Her childhood was a quiet one, her protected, affluent life a source of her insistence on experience and communication in her poetry. In The Life of Poetry (1949), she tells of recognizing the sheltered nature of her life: “A teacher asks: ’How many of you know any other road in the city except the road between home and school?’ I do not put up my hand. These are moments at which one begins to see.”

Rukeyser’s adult life was as eventful as her childhood was sheltered. In 1933, at age nineteen, she was arrested and caught...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The firstborn daughter of wealthy second-generation Jewish and politically conservative parents, Muriel Rukeyser (ROOK-iz-ur) attended Vassar College for two years (1930-1932); among her classmates were Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Bishop. She left college for a more active and rebellious role as a journalist with marked communist sympathies. Her father literally disinherited her. At twenty she had decisively broken with her family; her career as a writer would be the pursuit of a tradition she could call her own.

Rukeyser covered the second Scottsboro trial in Decatur, Alabama, where she was briefly jailed. Although she never joined the American Communist Party, her youthful romanticism persuaded her of the essential...

(The entire section is 715 words.)