Adrienne Rich Biography

(American poet)

Birthday: May 16, 1929 (Taurus)

Born In: Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Adrienne Rich was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was born to Jewish-Protestant parents. Her father encouraged her to read and write from a very young age and home tutored her. She spent a great deal of her time in her father’s library which was stocked with works of great writers. She worked hard to fulfil her father’s wishes, and by the time she was twenty-two, she come out with her first collection of poems, ‘A Change of World’. She married Alfred Conrad, an Economics Professor and had three sons. Their marriage became severely strained because of her being a lesbian. They separated and Conrad committed suicide. A large portion of her work portrayed her thoughts about lesbianism and feminist activism. Her poems and essays were well received, and she won a series of awards and recognitions from various quarters. Her collections of poems include ‘The Diamond Cutters’, ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law’, ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’, ‘A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far’, and ‘The Fact of a Doorframe’. Her critically acclaimed essays include: ‘The Art of the Possible: Essays and Conversations’ and ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Adrienne Cecile Rich

Died At Age: 82


Spouse/Ex-: Alfred Haskell Conrad (m.1953-1970)

father: Arnold Rice Rich

mother: Helen Elizabeth Jones Rich

children: David, Jacob, Paul

Quotes By Adrienne Rich Lesbians

Died on: March 27, 2012

place of death: Santa Cruz, California

City: Baltimore, Maryland

U.S. State: Maryland

More Facts

education: Harvard University, Radcliffe College

awards: 1950 - Yale Younger Poets Award for A Change of World
1960 - National Institute of Arts and Letters Award
1970 - Shelley Memorial Award

1974 - National Book Award for Poetry (a split award) for Diving into the Wreck
1989 - National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry
1990 - William Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement (for gay or lesbian writing)
1991 - Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service
1992 - Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
1992 - Poets' Prize for Atlas of the Difficult World
1996 - Wallace Stevens Award
1999 - Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lannan Foundation
2010 - Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize

  • 1

    What are some common themes in Adrienne Rich's poetry?

    Some common themes in Adrienne Rich's poetry include feminism, social justice, identity, power dynamics, and the nature of relationships.

  • 2

    How did Adrienne Rich contribute to the feminist movement?

    Adrienne Rich contributed to the feminist movement through her poetry, essays, and activism, advocating for women's rights, gender equality, and the importance of women's voices and experiences.

  • 3

    What is the significance of Adrienne Rich's poem "Diving into the Wreck?"

    "Diving into the Wreck" is a significant poem by Adrienne Rich that explores themes of self-discovery, transformation, and the journey to uncover hidden truths and confront personal and societal challenges.

  • 4

    How did Adrienne Rich's background influence her writing?

    Adrienne Rich's background, including her experiences as a woman, mother, and activist, significantly influenced her writing, shaping her perspectives on gender, power, politics, and social issues.
Childhood & Early Life
Adrienne Cecile Rich was born to Arnold Rice Rich, the Chairman of Pathology at The Johns Hopkins Medical School and Helen Elizabeth Jones Rich, a concert pianist and composer.
She was schooled at home and started attending school from fourth grade. She later attended the Roland Park Country School. She earned her college diploma from Radcliffe College, Harvard.
Her poems ‘Sources’ and ‘After Dark’ speak about her relationship with her father and the hard work she put in to fulfil her parents' ambitions.
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In 1966, she moved to New York with her husband and children. She became involved in anti-war, civil rights and feminist activism. Her husband took up a teaching position in City College.
8For two years starting 1967, she gave lectures at Swarthmore College. She taught in the Writing Division of Columbia University School of the Arts, as an assistant professor.
As a protest against the Vietnam-American War in 1968, she signed the ‘Writers and Editors War Tax Protest’, pledging not to pay taxes. Her writings reflected her radical views on politics.
She began teaching in the SEEK program in City College of New York in 1968. During this period, she wrote poems like ‘Necessities of Life’, ‘Leaflets’ and ‘The Will to Change’.
In 1979, Adrienne Rich compiled and republished some of her essays in ‘On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose’, wherein she asserted the need for sexual equality.
She was conferred an honorary doctorate from Smith College in 1979. She then shifted with her partner, Michelle Cliff, to Montague, MA and then relocated to Santa Cruz, where Rich pursued her teaching and writing career.
In the 1980s, she lectured at Scripps College, San Jose State University, Stanford University and Cornell University and wrote ‘Your Native Land, Your Life’, ‘Blood, Bread, and Poetry’, and ‘Time’s Power: Poems 1985–1988’.8In 1990, her work resulted in the founding of ‘Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends’. She was the journal’s editor and explored the cause of Jewish women's rights.
Her works through the 1990s were a mix of poetry and essays: ‘Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995–1998’, ‘The Art of the Possible: Essays and Conversations’, and ‘Fox: Poems 1998–2000’.
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Major Works
In 1951, Adrienne Rich’s first collection of poetry, ‘A Change of World’ was published. Renowned poet W.H. Auden selected it for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award and also wrote its introduction.
In 1955, her second collection of poems, ‘The Diamond Cutters’ was published to critical acclaim. Her third collection, ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law’, written after her marriage, expressed the struggle and turmoil she experienced as a wife and mother.
Her poems ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’, ‘A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far’, and ‘The Fact of a Doorframe’ expressed her views on lesbianism. She also wrote the critically appreciated essay, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’.
Awards & Achievements
‘Diving into the Wreck’ won Rich the 1974 National Book Award for Poetry.
She was awarded the ‘Ruth Paul Lilly Poetry Prize’, the ‘Elmer Holmes Bobst Award in Arts and Letters’ from NYU, and the ‘National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service’ to the Art of Poetry.
Her poems, ‘An Atlas of the Difficult World’ published in 1991 won the ‘Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry’, the ‘Lenore Marshall/Nation Award’, the ‘Poet's Prize’ and ‘Commonwealth Award in Literature’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1953, Adrienne Rich married Alfred Haskell Conrad, an Economics Professor at Harvard University. They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They had three sons – David, Paul and Jacob.
By 1970, her marriage was considerably strained. Conrad began to believe that she had lost her mind. They separated in mid-1970. In October, Conrad drove into the woods and shot himself.
In 1976, Rich entered into a lifelong lesbian relationship with Jamaican-born novelist and editor, Michelle Cliff. Her relationship inspired her controversial book, ‘Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution’.
Adrienne Rich passed away at her Santa Cruz, California home. She is survived by her sons, grandchildren and partner, Michelle Cliff.
Facts About Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was not only a poet and feminist icon, but she was also a skilled essayist, teacher, and activist who used her platform to advocate for social change.

Rich was known for her strong convictions and willingness to speak out against injustice, making her a powerful voice in the feminist and LGBTQ+ communities.

In addition to her literary achievements, Rich was a dedicated mother and partner, emphasizing the importance of family and relationships in her work.

Rich's poetry often explored themes of identity, power, and resistance, reflecting her deep commitment to challenging societal norms and promoting equality.

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