Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature

By Kathy J. Whitson | Go to book overview
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References and Suggested Readings
Fetterley, Judith, and Marjorie Pryse, eds. American Women Regionalists, 1850-1910. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

See also Chopin, Kate; hooks, bell.

Lisa R. Williams


Adrienne Rich's 2003 Bollingen Award for her lifetime of contributions to the field of poetry and for her latest volume, Fox: Poems 1998-2000, is another in the long stream of recognition that started very early in her career with the 1951 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for her first volume, A Change of World. In her professional career of over fifty years, she has remained attuned to the demands of her craft and has evolved in her subject matter and style from a “striking allegiance to modernist aesthetic fathers, as noted by Gilbert and Gubar, to a clearly defined and unapologetic feminist dialectic.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 16, 1929, to a professional family—her father was a physician and teacher and her mother was a pianist—Adrienne Rich was first educated at home by her mother. She graduated cum laude from Radcliffe in 1951 and married Alfred H. Conrad in 1953. With Conrad, she had three sons and continued writing poetry while becoming more involved in the feminist movement. In 1970, her marriage ended and her husband committed suicide. Harriet Davidson suggests, “These two events remain great silences in Rich's work.”

Rich's 1963 edition of Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law: Poems, 1954-1963 is generally viewed as the volume in which she makes the artistic leap from apprenticeship to a singular voice of her own. Diving into the Wreck (1973) continues with a feminist voice that some critics decried as too strident, too busily engaged in the same strategies of totalizing that she criticizes in male-gendered behaviors. But other critics welcomed the volume as significant and even-handed, and it was awarded the National Book Award in 1974.

As Rich's poetry increasingly embodied her belief that the “personal is political, deeply entrenched aesthetic conservatives such as Harold Bloom struck out at Rich. When Bloom edited The Best of the Best American Poetry: 1988-1997, he refused to note any poem from the 1996 collection edited by Adrienne Rich. He says,

The 1996 anthology is…a monumental representation of the enemies of the aesthetic who are in the act of overwhelming us. It is of a badness not to be believed, because it follows the criteria now operative: what matters most are the race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, and political purpose of the would-be poet. (16)


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