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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Adrienne Cecile Rich
Born May 16, 1929(1929-05-16)
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Occupation poet, non-fiction writer, essayist
Genres poetry, non-fiction
Notable work(s) Diving Into the Wreck
Notable award(s) National Book Award for Poetry, 1974

Adrienne Cecile Rich is an American poet, essayist and feminist. She has been called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century."[1]



Early life

Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland on May 16, 1929, the older of two sisters. Her father, the renowned pathologist Arnold Rice Rich, was a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Her mother, Helen Jones Rich, was a concert pianist until she married. Although Arnold Rich came from a Jewish family the girls were raised as Christians. Adrienne Rich's early poetic influence stemmed from her father who encouraged her to read but also to write her own poetry. Her interest in literature was sparked within her father's library where she read the work of writers such as Ibsen [2] Arnold, Blake, Keats, Rossetti, and Tennyson. Her father was ambitious for Adrienne and "planned to create a prodigy". Adrienne Rich and her younger sister were home schooled by their mother until Adrienne began public education in the fourth grade. The poems Sources and After Dark document her relationship with her father, describing how she worked hard to fulfill her parents' ambitions for her - moving into a world in which she was expected to excel [3].

Rich attended Radcliffe College where she focused primarily on poetry. In 1951, her last year at college, Rich's first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by the senior poet W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award; he went on to write the introduction to the published volume. Following her graduation, Rich received a Guggenheim Award, which allowed her to travel across Europe, including a stay in England between 1952-1953.

Family life

In 1953, Rich married Alfred Haskell Conrad, an economics professor at Harvard University and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They had three sons - David in 1955, Pablo in 1957, and Jacob in 1959. She published her second volume, The Diamond Cutters in 1955 and came to national prominence in 1963 with her third collection Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law. She continued her travels during 1961 and 1962 in the Netherlands on behalf of a second Guggenheim Fellowship [4].

The third collection reflects the increasing tensions she experienced as a wife and mother in the 1950s, marking a substantial change in Rich's style and subject matter. In her 1982 essay Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity, Rich states "The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me."

In 1966, Rich moved with her family to New York and became involved in anti-war and feminist activism [5]. Her activism and increasing politicisation are reflected in her next three collections Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971). Her husband took a teaching position at City College of New York. From 1967, Rich held positions at Swarthmore College and Columbia University School of the Arts and from 1968, with City College of New York.

The marriage began to fracture during the early 1960s causing them to separate. Soon after their separation, Alfred Conrad committed suicide in 1970 [6]. In 1976, Rich began life with long-term partner Michelle Cliff.

Later life and sexuality

In 1963 Rich chose to write and publish a much more personal work entitled Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law. Throughout this piece she began to examine her female identity. Rich's feminist position crystallized in her coming out as a lesbian in 1976, the year she published her controversial volume Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. The pamphlet Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), which was incorporated into the following year's Dream of a Common Language (1978), marked the first direct treatment of lesbian desire and sexuality in her work. A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981) and some of her late poems in The Fact of a Doorframe (2001) represent the capstone of this philosophical and political position. During this period, Rich also wrote a number of important essays, including "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," some of which were republished in On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978 (1979). Rich embraced her sexuality and took an active role in political issues of sexual equality.

Adrienne Rich taught at City College as well as Rutgers University until 1979. She moved to Western Massachusetts with her partner, Michelle Cliff, in the early 1980s. Ultimately, they moved to Northern California, where Rich continued her career as a professor, lecturer, poet, and essayist. Rich taught and lectured at Scripps College, San Jose State University, and Stanford University during the 1980s and 1990s.


Adrienne Rich's activism began in the 1960s with involvement in the student and anti-war movements, which continued into the 1970s. In 1964, Rich joined the New Left. Rich moved to New York in 1966, she became a civil rights and anti-war activist, as well as a radical feminist active in the women's rights movement [7].

Rich's works such as Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and Will to Change (1971), reflect an expanding interest in poetic form and social engagement. Rich became active in the women's liberation movement from this point forward and increasingly represented with it [8]. In 1974, her collection Diving Into the Wreck received the National Book Award for Poetry; Rich, however, refused the award individually, instead joining with two other female poets (Alice Walker and Audre Lorde) to accept it on behalf of all women [9].

Both An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991) and Dark Fields of the Republic (1995) explore the relationship between private and public histories. During the 1990s Rich became an active member of numerous advisory boards such as the Boston Woman’s Fund, National Writers Union, Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa, and New Jewish Agenda.

In 1997, Adrienne Rich refused the National Medal of Arts, stating that "I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration [...] "[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage"[10] [11].

Selected Awards and Honors



  • Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Norton. 1976. ISBN 9780393312843. 
  • On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978, 1979
  • Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985, 1986 (Includes the noted essay: Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence)
  • What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, 1993
  • Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations. W.W. Norton. 2001. ISBN 9780393050455. 
  • Poetry and Commitment: An Essay, 2007
  • A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008, 2009


  • A Change of World. Yale University Press. 1951. 
  • The Diamond Cutters, and Other Poems. Harper. 1955. 
  • Snapshots of a daughter-in-law: poems, 1954-1962. Harper & Row. 1963. 
  • Necessities of life: poems, 1962-1965. W.W. Norton. 1966. 
  • Selected Poems. Chatto & Hogarth P Windus. 1967. 
  • Leaflets. W.W. Norton. 1969. ISBN 9780039304195. 
  • The Will to Change: Poems 1968-1970. Norton. 1971. 
  • Diving into the Wreck. W.W. Norton. 1973. 
  • Poems: Selected and New, 1950-1974. Norton. 1975. ISBN 9780393043921. 
  • Twenty-one Love Poems. Effie's Press. 1976. 
  • The Dream of a Common Language. Norton. 1978. ISBN 9780393045024. 
  • A Wild Patience Has Taken Me this Far: Poems 1978-1981. 1982. ISBN 9780393310375.  (reprint 1993)
  • Sources. Heyeck Press. 1983. 
  • The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984. W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated. 1984. ISBN 9780393310757. 
  • Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems. Norton. 1986. ISBN 9780393023183. 
  • Time’s Power: Poems, 1985-1988. Norton. 1989. ISBN 9780393026771. 
  • An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems 1988-1991. Norton. 1991. ISBN 9780393030693. 
  • Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970. W. W. Norton & Company, Incorporated. 1993. ISBN 9780393313857. 
  • Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995. W.W. Norton. 1995. ISBN 9780393038682. 
  • Selected poems, 1950-1995. Salmon Pub.. 1996. ISBN 9781897648780. 
  • Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995-1998. Norton. 1999. ISBN 9780393046823. 
  • Fox: Poems 1998-2000. W W Norton & Co Inc. 2001. ISBN 9780393323771.  (reprint 2003)
  • The School Among the Ruins: Poems, 2000-2004. W. W. Norton & Co.. 2004. ISBN 9780393327557. 
  • Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004–2006. ISBN 9780393065657. 

See also


  1. ^ Nelson, Cary, editor. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Oxford University Press. 2000.
  2. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century Marshall Cavendish p1278
  3. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century Marshall Cavendish p1278
  4. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) p1281
  5. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) p1281
  6. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) p1281
  7. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century Marshall Cavendish p1281
  8. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century Marshall Cavendish p1281
  9. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century Marshall Cavendish p1276
  10. ^ In a Protest, Poet Rejects Arts Medal The New York Times article July 11, 1997 accessed 10 February 2010
  11. ^ R. Baird Shuman (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century Marshall Cavendish p1281

Further Reading

  • Henneberg, Sylvia (2010) The Creative Crone: Aging and the Poetry of May Sarton and Adrienne Rich University of Missouri ISBN 082621861X
  • Keyes, Claire (2008) The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich University of Georgia Press ISBN 0820333514
  • Colby Langdell, Cheri (2004) Adrienne Rich: The Moment of Change Praeger ISBN 0313316058
  • Yorke, Liz (1998) Adrienne Rich: Passion, Politics and the Body Sage Publications ISBN 0803977271

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Adrienne Rich (born May 16, 1929, in Baltimore, Maryland) is an American feminist, poet, teacher, and writer.


  • Women's Studies can amount simply to compensatory history; too often they fail to challenge the intellectual and political structures that must be challenged if women as a group are ever to come into collective, nonexclusionary freedom.
    • Blood, Bread and Poetry, ch. 1 (1986)
  • To become a token woman—whether you win the Nobel Prize or merely get tenure at the cost of denying your sisters—is to become something less than a man ... since men are loyal at least to their own world-view, their laws of brotherhood and self-interest.
    • As quoted in Ms. magazine, p. 44 (September 1979)
  • No woman is really an insider in the institutions fathered by masculine consciousness.
    • Blood, Bread and Poetry, ch. 1 (1986)
  • The danger lies in forgetting what we had. The flow between generations becomes a trickle, grandchildren tape-recording grandparents' memories on special occasions perhaps—no casual storytelling jogged by daily life, there being no shared daily life what with migrations, exiles, diasporas, rendings, the search for work. Or there is a shared daily life riddled with holes of silence.
    • What Is Found There, ch. 11 (1993)
  • False history gets made all day, any day,
    the truth of the new is never on the news
    False history gets written every day...
    The lesbian archaeologist watches herself
    sifting her own life out from the shards she's piecing,
    asking the clay all questions but her own.
    • Turning the Wheel, section 2 (1981)

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