Adrienne Rich, 82, a Poet of Unswerving Vision Who Was at the Forefront of Feminism

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Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Adrienne Rich was for decades among the leading writers of the feminist movement. She died on Tuesday at her home in California.

Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work -- distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity -- brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century, died on Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, California. She was 82.

The cause was complications of rheumatoid arthritis, with which she had lived for most of her adult life, her family said.

Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Ms. Rich was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and about a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies, according to W.W. Norton & Co., her publisher since the mid-1960s.

Triply marginalized -- as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew -- Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.

She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of "The Feminine Mystique," did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women's lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women's disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.

For Ms. Rich, the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front.

While some critics called her poetry polemical, she remained celebrated for the unflagging intensity of her vision, and for the constant formal reinvention that kept her verse -- often jagged and colloquial, sometimes purposefully shocking, always controlled in tone, diction and pacing -- sounding like that of few other poets.

She was never supposed to have turned out as she did.

Adrienne Cecile Rich was born in Baltimore on May 16, 1929. Her father, Arnold Rice Rich, a doctor and assimilated Jew, was an authority on tuberculosis who taught at Johns Hopkins University. Her mother, Helen Gravely Jones Rich, a Christian, was a pianist and composer who, cleaving to social norms of the day, forsook her career to marry and have children. Adrienne was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church.

Theirs was a bookish household, and Adrienne, as she said afterward, was groomed by her father to be a literary prodigy. He encouraged her to write poetry when she was still a child, and she steeped herself in the poets in his library -- all men, she later ruefully observed. …


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