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Sharon Olds Biography | Poet

Photo of Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is one of the most famous poets who is still alive today. She was born on the 19th of November in 1942 in San Francisco, California. Still, she calls Berkeley, California home. Over the course of her very long career, Sharon Olds has won dozens of awards and honors for poetry. She is a teacher of creative writing at New York University today. She was the New York State Poet Laureate for two years, making her one of the most important poets of the last few decades.

The Schools that Helped Create Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds went to Dana Hall School from grade 6 to grade 12. This is a school that has managed to educate quite a few people who are now famous, and she is one of their most notable alums. While she was well versed in all subjects there, she primarily focused on learning history, English, and creative writing. Sharon Olds was exposed to the writings of a lot of the poets who went on to inspire her when she was still a student at Dana Hall School, so this was certainly an important part of her development as a poet. Other famous female poets like Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay were some of her strongest influences.

Sharon Olds then graduated in 1972 from Columbia University with a doctorate in English. Like many modern poets, Sharon Olds has a great deal of formal and high-quality education. The poets who seem to be completely self-taught are often historical themselves, and their work went on to inspire people like Sharon Olds.

The Familial Background of Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds may have grown up in Berkeley, but she did not have the upbringing that people tend to associate with Berkeley residents today. She was a self-described hell-fire Calvinist in her early life. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, and her mother enabled the abuse. Sharon Olds was forbidden from watching films or television shows as a child, and her reading materials tended to be restricted to Christian propaganda stories.

To say that she managed to flourish and succeed despite her difficult and unfortunate background would be a tremendous understatement. Today, she more or less regards herself as an atheist, so it seems that she rejected the teachings of her childhood on many different levels.

The Professional Achievements of Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds managed to get the coveted T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry for her Stag's Leap collection, so it is certainly one of her most famous works. She was married for thirty-two years and divorced her adulterous husband around the time that these poems were written, and many of them are dramatizations of what she experienced during this very difficult point in her life.

Satan Says was her first poetry collection, and it was published in 1980. Four years later, she published the Dead and the Living. Her work the Wellspring, which was published in 1996, uses a lot of powerful imagery and seemed to help Sharon Olds externalize many of the complicated emotions she has about her history of abuse. From the year 1998 to 2000, Sharon Olds was the New York State Poet Laureate.

The Significance of Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is one of the most famous and acclaimed female poets in modern history. Poetry was a male-dominated art form for a very long time, which can seem like a dated opinion in a world in which poetry is often regarded as something very feminine. Poetry was not always regarded as feminine, and female poets had to struggle for the sake of recognition for a while. Sharon Olds was the very first American woman to win the T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry, in honor of her Stag's Leap poetry collection.

Sharon Olds signifies the difference between many modern poets and many historical poets in many ways. She represents the poet as a distinguished academic who has won many coveted awards in a very formal poetic culture. The poet as the lonely artist who came from nothing and is known for a few unsung works was much more of a nineteenth century figure, and by the mid-twentieth century, these sorts of poetic figures became less common. Sharon Olds is a modern poet in many different senses of the world. 

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Book: Reflection on the Important Things