Best-Loved American Women Poets

Women Poets
Women Poets. Getty Images and Public Domain
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America's Women Poets

Women Poets
Women Poets. Getty Images and Public Domain

The women you'll find in this collection are not necessarily the best women poets or the most literary, but ones whose poems have tended to be studied and/or remembered.  A few were nearly forgotten and then resurrected in the 1960s-1980s as gender studies uncovered their work and contributions again. They're listed alphabetically.

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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou in 2010
Maya Angelou in 2010. Riccardo S. Savi/WireImage/Getty Images

 (April 4, 1928 - May 28, 2014)

American writer, Maya Angelou survived a tough childhood and early adulthood to become a singer, actress, activist, and writer. In 1993, she came to much wider attention when she recited a poem of her own composition at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Maya Angelou >>

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Anne Bradstreet

Title page, second (posthumous) edition of Bradstreet's poems, 1678
Title page, second (posthumous) edition of Bradstreet's poems, 1678. Library of Congress

(about 1612 – September 16, 1672)

Anne Bradstreet was the first published poet in America, either male or female.Through her work, we get some insight into life in Puritan New England.She wrote quite personally of her experiences. She also wrote about women’s capabilities, especially for Reason; in one poem she extolled the recent ruler of England, Queen ElizabethMore >>

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Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks, 1967, 50th birthday party
Gwendolyn Brooks, 1967, 50th birthday party. Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

(June 7, 1917 - December 3, 2000)

Gwendolyn Brooks was the poet laureate of Illinois and, in 1950, became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her poetry reflected black urban experience of the 20th century. She was Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1968 until her death.

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Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson - about 1850
Emily Dickinson - about 1850. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

(December 10, 1830 - May 15, 1886)

The experimental poetry of Emily Dickinson was a little too experimental for her first editors, who “regularized” much of her verse to conform to traditional standards. In the 1950s, Thomas Johnson began “un-editing” her work, so now we have more available as she wrote it. Her life and work is something of an enigma; only a few poems were published during her lifetime. More >>

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Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde lecturing, words on blackboard are Women are powerful and dangerous
Audre Lorde lecturing at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, 1983. Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images

February 18, 1934 - November 17, 1992)

A black feminist who criticized the racial blindness of much of the feminist movement, Audre Lorde’s poetry and activism came from her experiences as a woman, a black person and a lesbian.  More »

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Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell
Amy Lowell. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

(February 9, 1874 - May 12, 1925)

An Imagist poet inspired by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Amy Lowell’s work was nearly forgotten until gender studies highlighted her work, which often featured lesbian themes. She was part of the Imagist movement. More »

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Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy, 1974
Marge Piercy, 1974. Waring Abbot / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

(March 31, 1936 - )

A novelist as well as a poet, Marge Piercy has explored relationships and women in her fiction and her poems.  Two of her best-known books of poetry are The Moon is Always Female (1980) and What Are Big Girls Made Of? (1987). More »

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Sylvia Plath

Photo of Sylvia Plath at her gravesite
Photo of Sylvia Plath at her gravesite. Amy T. Zielinski/Getty Images

(October 27, 1932 - February 11, 1963)

Poet and writer Sylvia Plath suffered from depression and sadly, took her life when she was just thirty after other attempts.  Her book The Bell Jar was autobiographical. She was educated at Cambridge and lived in London most of the years of her marriage. She was adopted by the feminist movement after her death. Sylvia Plath Quotes >>

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Adrienne Rich

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

(May 16, 1929 - March 27, 2012)

An activist as well as a poet, Adrienne Rich reflected changes in culture and her own life changes. In mid-career she became more political and assertively feminist. In 1997, she was awarded but refused the National Medal of Arts. More »

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Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Ella Wheeler Wilcox. From her book New Thought, Common Sense, and What Life Means to Me, 1908

(November 5, 1850 – October 30, 1919)

American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote many lines and poems which are well-remembered, but she’s considered more of a popular poet than a literary poet.  In her poetry, she expressed her positive thinking, New Thought ideas and interest in Spiritualism. More »