Adrienne Rich

(1929 - 2012)

Poet, feminist, and public intellectual Adrienne Cecile Rich was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, the chairman of pathology at Johns Hopkins Medical School, was a culturally Jewish assimilated Christian, and her mother was a composer and concert pianist. While young, Rich immersed herself in her father’s extensive library, noting later that all the poets she encountered there were men. She attended Radcliffe College, and in 1951, the year of her graduation, her poetry collection A Change of World was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. She married Harvard economics professor Alfred Haskell Conrad in 1953, and by the time she was 30, she had three young sons.

Rich’s early poetry, though accomplished, is now seen as rigorously formal and derivative of earlier traditions. It was not until the publication of Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law in 1963 that Rich shifted toward her characteristic free-verse style and themes of radical politics, female identity, and critique of conventional domestic life. Later, she would become one of the premier American poets to embrace lesbian desire and female sexuality in her writing. Rich and Conrad moved to New York City in 1966 and became involved with the New Left and civil rights activism. In 1970, they separated, and Conrad committed suicide shortly thereafter. In 1976, Rich moved in with Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff, with whom she was partnered until her death.

Rich’s many poetry collections include the seminal Diving Into the Wreck, which shared the 1974 National Book Award with Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America. She also wrote essays on feminism, including the seminal Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. She taught at Bryn Mawr, City College, Rutgers University, Stanford University, and several other California schools. The recipient of dozens of accolades, including the inaugural Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Frost Medal, the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, Rich is revered as a second-wave feminist icon and a pioneering American poet.


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