Adrienne Rich

Feminist and Political Poet

Adrienne Rich, 1991
Adrienne Rich, 1991. Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images

edited by Jone Johnson Lewis 

Adrienne Rich Facts:

Known as: feminist, lesbian, activist, writer of politically themed poetry
Occupation: Poet, Essayist, Lecturer
Born: May 16, 1929, in Baltimore
Died: March 27, 2012

Adrienne Rich was an award-winning poet, longtime American feminist and prominent lesbian. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of poetry and several non-fiction books. Her poems have been widely published in anthologies and studied in literature and women's studies courses.

She received major prizes, fellowships, and international recognition for her work.

Adrienne Rich Biography:

Adrienne Rich was born May 16, 1929, in Baltimore, Maryland. She studied at Radcliffe College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1951. That year her first book, A Change of World, was selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series. As her poetry developed over the next two decades, she began writing more free verse, and her work became more political.

Adrienne Rich married Alfred Conrad in 1953. They lived in Massachusetts and New York and had three children. The couple separated and Conrad committed suicide in 1970. Adrienne Rich later came out as a lesbian. She began living with her partner, Michelle Cliff, in 1976. They moved to California during the 1980s.

Political Poetry

In her book What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, Adrienne Rich wrote that poetry begins with the crossing of the trajectories of "elements that might not otherwise have known simultaneity."

Adrienne Rich was for many years an activist on behalf of women and feminism, against the Vietnam War, and for gay rights, among other political causes. Although the United States tends to question or reject political poetry, she pointed out that many other cultures view poets a necessary, legitimate part of the national discourse.

She said that she would be an activist "for the long haul."

Women's Liberation Movement

Adrienne Rich's poetry has been seen as feminist since the publication of her book Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law in 1963. She called women's liberation a democratizing force. However, she also said that the 1980s and 1990s revealed more ways in which U.S. society is a male-dominated system, far from having solved the problem of women's liberation.

Adrienne Rich encouraged the use of the term "women's liberation" because the word "feminist" could easily become a mere label, or it could cause resistance in the next generation of women. Rich went back to using "women's liberation" because it brings up the serious question: liberation from what?

Adrienne Rich praised the consciousness-raising of early feminism. Not only did consciousness-raising bring issues to the forefront of women's minds, but doing so led to action.

Prize Winner

Adrienne Rich won the National Book Award in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck. She refused to accept the award individually, instead sharing it with fellow nominees Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. They accepted it on behalf of all women everywhere who are silenced by a patriarchal society.

In 1997, Adrienne Rich refused the National Medal for the Arts, stating that the very idea of art as she knew it was incompatible with the cynical politics of the Bill Clinton Administration.

Adrienne Rich was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She also won numerous other awards, including the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Book Critics Circle Award for The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Wallace Stevens Award, which recognizes "outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry."

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Napikoski, Linda. "Adrienne Rich." ThoughtCo, Apr. 2, 2016, Napikoski, Linda. (2016, April 2). Adrienne Rich. Retrieved from Napikoski, Linda. "Adrienne Rich." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).