Biography of Marge Piercy, Feminist Novelist and Poet

Women's Relationships and Emotions Through Literature

Marge Piercy in 1974

Waring Abbott / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Marge Piercy (born March 31, 1936) is a feminist writer of fiction, poetry, and memoir. She is known for examining women, relationships, and emotions in new and provocative ways. Her cyberpunk novel "He, She and It" (known outside the U.S. as "Body of Glass") won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which honors the best science fiction, in 1993.

Fast Facts: Marge Piercy

  • Known For: Feminist author
  • Born: March 31, 1936 in Detroit

Family Background

Piercy was born and grew up in Detroit. Like many U.S. families of the 1930s, hers was influenced by the Great Depression. Her father, Robert Piercy, was sometimes out of work. She also knew the “outsider” struggle of being a Jew, as she was raised by her Jewish mother and non-practicing Presbyterian father. Her neighborhood was a working-class neighborhood, segregated block by block. She went through some years of sickness after early health, first struck by German measles and then rheumatic fever. Reading helped her through that period.

Marge Piercy cites her maternal grandmother, who had previously lived on a shtetl in Lithuania, as an influence on her upbringing. She remembers her grandmother as a storyteller and her mother as a voracious reader who encouraged observation of the world around her.

She had a troubled relationship with her mother, Bert Bunnin Piercy. Her mother encouraged her to read and be curious, but also was highly emotional, and not very tolerant of her daughter's growing independence.

Education and Early Adulthood

Marge Piercy began writing poetry and fiction as a teenager. She graduated from Mackenzie High School. She attended the University of Michigan, where she co-edited the literary magazine and became a published writer for the first time. She earned scholarships and awards, including a fellowship to Northwestern to pursue her master’s degree.

Marge Piercy felt like an outsider in 1950s U.S. higher education, in part because of what she calls dominant Freudian values. Her sexuality and goals did not conform to expected behavior. The themes of women’s sexuality and women’s roles would later be prominent in her writing.

She published "Breaking Camp," a book of her poetry, in 1968.

Marriage and Relationships

Marge Piercy married young, but left her first husband by age 23. He was a physicist and a Jew from France, active in anti-war activities during France's war with Algeria. They lived in France. She was frustrated by her husband's expectation of conventional sex roles, including not taking her writing seriously.

After she left that marriage and divorced, she lived in Chicago, working at various part-time jobs to make a living while she wrote poetry and took part in the civil rights movement.

With her second husband, a computer scientist, Marge Piercy lived in Cambridge, San Francisco, Boston, and New York. The marriage was an open relationship, and others sometimes lived with them. She worked long hours as a feminist and anti-war activist, but eventually left New York after the movements began to splinter and fall apart.  

Marge Piercy and her husband moved to Cape Cod, where she began writing Small Changes, published in 1973. That novel explores a variety of relationships with men and women, in marriage and in communal living. Her second marriage ended later that decade.

Marge Piercy married Ira Wood in 1982. They have written several books together, including the play "Last White Class," the novel "Storm Tide," and a non-fiction book about the craft of writing. Together they started the Leapfrog Press, which publishes midlist fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. They sold the publishing company to new owners in 2008.

Writing and Exploration

Marge Piercy says her writing and poetry changed after she moved to Cape Cod. She sees herself as part of a connected universe. She bought land and became interested in gardening. In addition to writing, she remained active working in the women’s movement and teaching at a Jewish retreat center.

Marge Piercy often visited the places where she sets her novels, even if she had been there before, to see them through her characters’ eyes. She describes writing fiction as inhabiting another world for a few years. It allows her to explore choices she didn’t make and imagine what would have happened.

Famous Works

Marge Piercy’s is the author of over 15 novels, including "Woman on the Edge of Time" (1976), "Vida" (1979), "Fly Away Home" (1984), and "Gone to Soldiers" (1987). Some novels are considered science fiction, including "Body of Glass," awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her many poetry books include "The Moon Is Always Female" (1980), "What Are Big Girls Made Of?" (1987), and "Blessing the Day" (1999). Her memoir, "Sleeping With Cats," was published in 2002.

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Napikoski, Linda. "Biography of Marge Piercy, Feminist Novelist and Poet." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Napikoski, Linda. (2020, August 29). Biography of Marge Piercy, Feminist Novelist and Poet. Retrieved from Napikoski, Linda. "Biography of Marge Piercy, Feminist Novelist and Poet." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).