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Adrienne Rich Biography | Poet

Photo of Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was almost as influential as a feminist as she was as a poet. She was born in the year 1929 on May 16th in Baltimore. She died fairly recently, on March 27th in the year 2012 in Santa Cruz, California. Over the course of her very long life and her very fruitful career, she managed to win the National Book Award in 1974 and the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2010. Adrienne Rich is still famous for her non-fiction essays as well as her poetry. She's a poet who managed to stay connected to the world and not just to her own thoughts.

The Educational Origins of Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich didn't go to public school until she was in the fourth grade. Before that point, she was taught at home. She then went to the girls' school Roland Park Country School. Adrienne Rich is one of the most famous alumni from Radcliffe College. In spite of the fact that Radcliffe College was more or less the women's college equivalent of Harvard College at the time, Adrienne Rich noted that she had no female instructors there.

The Professional and Familial Background of Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich's father was a famous pathologist and her mother was a concert pianist and composer, so she certainly came from an intellectually gifted family. Adrienne Rich was very interested in earning her independence from them, which partly motivated her to marry her first husband, Alfred Haskell Conrad. Their marriage was tense, especially with Adrienne Rich's increasingly powerful involvement with feminist, civil rights, and anti-war activism. They eventually separated and her husband committed suicide. Adrienne Rich's romantic partnership with Michelle Cliff, which continued into her death, was a much more stable relationship.

Like many women in the 1950's, Adrienne Rich eventually became unfulfilled with her role as a wife and mother. She became a powerful voice in feminism activism as the New Left rose. Towards the 1970's, she also became a relatively early activist for LGBT causes. Some of her poetry reflects this, and many of her essays are about her sympathy with other oppressed groups, and her solidarity with other members of her own oppressed groups.

Awards and Distinctions of Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was definitely not a poet who succeeded later in life after a long period of obscurity, and she certainly wasn't the kind of poet who only got noticed after she died. She won her first major poetry prize before even graduating college, specifically the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. She was able to study at Oxford for a year thanks to the Guggenheim fellowship that she earned.

She continued to win dozens of poetry prizes throughout her life. Harvard University gave her an honorary doctorate in 1989. She became a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991. In 2006, she received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Earning all of these distinctions in addition to the National Book Award in 1974 is particularly impressive.

Adrienne Rich was a very prolific poet and essayist. Diving into the Wreck is probably her most famous work, however, and it is the one that people will usually mine for quotes when they want to show off how much their know her work. It was published in 1973, and it was more than enough to solidify her reputation as a poet.

The Importance of the Work of Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was interested in outright rewriting certain aspects of culture, which certainly makes her a bold poet and a bold cultural commentator. A lot of her poetry focuses on the need to create new cultural myths. Her poetry always managed to be unabashedly political while also still being lovely and well-drawn, allowing her to strike the balance between being an artist and being an activist.

People who are looking for uniquely feminist literature will often turn to Adrienne Rich almost immediately. Her works from the 1970's are classics today. She was able to express a lot of very complex ideas with lovely and delicate imagery and a lot of rich knowledge, demonstrating her diverse and rare collection of talents. Adrienne Rich straddled the line between a poet and an activist, and managed to be both. 

Adrienne Rich: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes

Book: Shattered Sighs