Adrienne Rich, Trumansburg, New York, October 2001

Adrienne Rich in 2001. Photo by Katharyn Howd Machan. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Adrienne Cecile Rich
Born May 16, 1929 (1929-05-16) (age 91)
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Occupation poet, non-fiction writer, essayist
Genres poetry, non-fiction
Notable work(s) Diving Into the Wreck
Notable award(s) National Book Award for Poetry, 1974; Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award, 2010

Adrienne Cecile Rich (May 16, 1929 - March 27, 2012) was an American poet, essayist, and feminist. She has been called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century."[1]



Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the older of 2 sisters. Her father, pathologist Arnold Rice Rich, was a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and her mother, Helen Jones Rich, had been a concert pianist until she married. Although Arnold Rich came from a Jewish family the girls were raised as Christians.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) The Life of the Legendary Poet & Activist

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) The Life of the Legendary Poet & Activist

Adrienne Rich's early poetic influence stemmed from her father who encouraged her to read but also to write her own poetry. Her interest in literature was sparked in her father's library, where she read the work of writers such as Ibsen [2] Arnold, Blake, Keats, Rossetti, and Tennyson. Her father was ambitious for Adrienne and "planned to create a prodigy".

Adrienne and her younger sister were home schooled by their mother until Adrienne began public education in the 4rth grade. The poems "Sources" and "After Dark" document her relationship with her father, describing how she worked hard to fulfill her parents' ambitions for her - moving into a world in which she was expected to excel. [2]

Later, Rich went to Roland Park Country School, which she described as a "good old fashioned girls school [that] gave us fine role models of single women who were intellectually impassioned." [3] After graduating, Rich gained her college diploma at Radcliffe College, Harvard, where she focused primarily on poetry and learning writing craft, encountering no women teachers at all.[3]

Following her graduation, Rich received a Guggenheim Fellowship, to study in Oxford for a year. Following a visit to Florence, she decided to cut short her study at Oxford and spend her remaining time in Europe writing and exploring Italy. [4]

Family lifeEdit

In 1953, Rich married Alfred Haskell Conrad, an economics professor at Harvard University, whom she had met as an undergraduate. She had said of the match: "I married in part because I knew no better way to disconnect from my first family [...] I wanted what I saw as a full woman's life, whatever was possible." [4] They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts and had 3 sons - David in 1955 (now a graphic designer), Paul in 1957 (now an elementary school music teacher) and Jacob in 1959 (now a radio producer).

She continued her travels during 1961 and 1962 with a 2nd Guggenheim Fellowship to work at the Netherlands Economic Institute.[5] In 1964, Rich joined the New Left and in 1966, she moved with her family to New York, becoming involved in anti-war, civil rights and feminist activism; her husband took a teaching position at City College of New York.[5] In 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[6] Rich's activism and increasing politicisation are reflected the poems in her next 3 collections, Necessities of Life (1966), Leaflets (1969), and The Will to Change (1971), which also highlighted an expanding interest in poetic form. Rich, from this point forward, became increasingly represented with the women's movement.[5]

From 1967, Rich held positions at Swarthmore College and Columbia University School of the Arts and from 1968, with City College of New York. Increasingly militant, Rich hosted anti-Vietnam and Black Panther fundraising parties at their apartment; tensions began to split the marriage, Conrad fearing that his wife had lost her mind.[4] The couple separated in mid-1970 and shortly afterward, in October, Conrad drove into the woods and shot himself.[4] [5]

Later lifeEdit

Adrienne Rich 1980

Adrienne Rich in 1980. Photo by Kendall. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

In coming out as a lesbian in 1976, Rich's feminist position crystallized. In this year she published the controversial volume Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. She wrote, "The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs," [4] lesbianism pressing as a political as much as a personal imperative.

During this period, Rich also wrote a number of key socio-political essays, including "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence", one of the first to address the theme of lesbian existence. [4] In this essay, she asks "how and why women's choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners, co-workers, lovers, community, has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding". [4] Some of the essays were republished in On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected prose, 1966-1978 (1979). Rich shouted out her sexuality and took a role in leadership for sexual equality.[4] Novelist and poet Jeanette Winterson describes Rich's impact: "Since the 1960s, her poetry and her politics have come together to create involved, engaged, challenging writing". [4]

In 1976, Rich began a relationship with Jamaican-born novelist and editor Michelle Cliff. Rich taught at City College as well as Rutgers University until 1979. She moved to Western Massachusetts with Cliff in the early 1980s. Ultimately, they moved to Northern California, where Rich continued her career as a professor, lecturer, poet, and essayist. Cliff and Rich took over editorship of lesbian journal Sinister Wisdom in 1981. Rich taught and lectured at Scripps College, San Jose State University, and Stanford University during the 1980s and 1990s.[7]

During the 1990s Rich became an active member of numerous advisory boards such as the Boston Woman’s Fund, National Writers Union, Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa, and New Jewish Agenda.

In 1997, Adrienne Rich refused the National Medal of Arts, stating that "I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration.... [Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage".[5][8][9] The volume Midnight Salvage was published in 1999, as she turned 70.

Rich died on March 27, 2012, at the age of 82 in her Santa Cruz, California home. Her son, Pablo Conrad, reported that her death resulted from long-term rheumatoid arthritis.[10] Her last collection was published the year before her death. Rich was survived by her sons, 2 grandchildren,[11] and her partner Michelle Cliff.[12]

Writing Edit

In 1951 (her last year at college) Rich's debut collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by W.H. Auden for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets; he went on to write the introduction to the published volume.

In 1955 she published her 2nd volume, The Diamond Cutters, a collection she later said she wished had not been published.[4]

Her 3rd collection, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963), was a much more personal work examining her female identity, reflecting the increasing tensions she experienced as a wife and mother in the 1950s, marking a substantial change in Rich's style and subject matter. In her 1982 essay Split at the Root: An essay on Jewish identity, Rich states "The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me." The book met with harsh reviews. She comments, "I was seen as 'bitter' and 'personal'; and to be personal was to be disqualified, and that was very shaking because I'd really gone out on a limb [...] I realised I'd gotten slapped over the wrist, and I didn't attempt that kind of thing again for a long time."[4]

The pamphlet Twenty-One Love Poems (1977), which was incorporated into 1978's Dream of a Common Language, marked the 1st direct treatment of lesbian desire and sexuality in her work.[13] A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981) and some of her late poems in The Fact of a Doorframe (2001) represent the capstone of this philosophical and political position. In her analytical work Adrienne Rich: The moment of change, Langdell suggests these works represent a central rite of passage for the poet, as she (Rich) crossed a threshold into a newly constellated life and a "new relationship with the universe".[14]

Both An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991) and Dark Fields of the Republic (1995) explore the relationship between private and public histories.

On the role of the poet, Rich has written: "We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation."[15]


In 1974, her collection Diving Into the Wreck won the National Book Award for Poetry, which she shared with Allen Ginsberg. Rich was joined by feminist poets Alice Walker and Audre Lorde to accept it on behalf of all women. [16]




  • A Change of World (with foreword by W.H. Auden). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1951.
  • Poems. New York: Oxford University Poetry Society, 1952.
  • The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems. New York: Harper, 1955.
  • Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law: Poems, 1954-1962. New York: Harper, 1963
  • revised edition. New York: Norton, 1967.
  • Necessities of Life. New York: Norton, 1966.
  • Selected Poems. London: Chatto & Windus, 1967.
  • Leaflets: Poems, 1965-1968. New York: Norton, 1969.
  • The Will to Change: Poems, 1968-1970. New York: Norton, 1971.
  • Diving into the Wreck: Poems, 1971-1972. New York: Norton, 1973.
  • Poems: Selected and new, 1950-1974. New York: Norton, 1974.
  • Twenty-one Love Poems. Emeryville, CA: Effie's Press, 1977.
  • The Dream of a Common Language: Poems, 1974-1977. New York: Norton, 1978.
  • A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far: Poems, 1978-1981. New York: Norton, 1981.
  • Sources. Woodside, CA: Heyeck Press, 1983.
  • The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems selected and new, 1950-1984. New York: Norton, 1984.
  • Your Native Land, Your Life. New York: Norton, 1986.
  • Time's Power: Poems, 1985-1988. New York: Norton, 1988.
  • An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems, 1988-1991. New York: Norton, 1991.
  • Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970. New York: Norton, 1993.
  • Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995. New York: Norton, 1995.
  • Selected Poems, 1950-1995. Knockeven, Ireland: Salmon Publishers, 1996.
  • Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995-1998. New York: Norton, 1999.
  • Fox: Poems, 1998-2000. New York: Norton, 2001.
  • The School among the Ruins: Poems, 2000-2004. New York: Norton, 2004.
  • Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems, 2004-2006. New York: Norton, 2007.
  • Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems, 2007-2010. New York: Norton, 2011.[18]


  • Ariadne: A play in three acts; and poems. Baltimore, MD: J.H. Furst, 1939.
  • Not I, but Death: A play in one act. Baltimore, MD: J.H. Furst, 1941.


  • Of Woman Born: Motherhood as experience and institution. New York: Norton, 1976
    • 10th anniversary edition (with revised introduction), 1986.
  • Women and Honor: Some notes on lying (pamphlet). Pittsburgh, PA: Motheroot Publishing / Pittsburgh Women Writers, 1977.
  • On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected prose, 1966-1978. New York: Norton, 1979.
  • Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (pamphlet). Denver, CO: Antelope Publications, 1980.
  • Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected prose, 1979-1986. New York: Norton, 1986.
  • (With Susan Morland) Birth of the age of women. Hereford, UK: Wild Caret, 1991.
  • What Is Found There: Notebooks on poetry and politics. New York: Norton, 1993.
  • Arts of the Possible: Essays and conversations. New York: Norton, 2001.
  • Poetry and Commitment: An assay. New York: Norton, 2007.
  • A Human Eye: Essays on art in society, 1997-2008. New York: Norton, 2009.



Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[19]

Audio / videoEdit

Adrienne Rich reads Diving into the Wreck

Adrienne Rich reads Diving into the Wreck

Adrienne Rich "Dedications"

Adrienne Rich "Dedications"

Poet Adrienne Rich Reads 'Prospective Immigrants Please Note'

Poet Adrienne Rich Reads 'Prospective Immigrants Please Note'

Elliston Shorts Adrienne Rich, "Power"

Elliston Shorts Adrienne Rich, "Power"

Adrienne Rich "The Art of Translation"

Adrienne Rich "The Art of Translation"

Adrienne Rich reads from Twenty-One Love Poems

Adrienne Rich reads from Twenty-One Love Poems

  • The Poetry of Adrienne Rich (cassette). New York: Jeffrey Norton, 1968.
  • Adrienne Rich: Reading at Stanford (LP). Stanford, CA: Stanford Program for Recordings in Sound, 1973.
  • Adrienne Rich Reading from "Diving into the Wreck" (cassette). Berkeley, CA: University of California Extension Media Center, 1974.
  • Tackling the Contradictions: Poems, 1981-1985. Washington, DC: Watershed Intermedia, 1986.
  • An Evening with Adrienne Rich, February 26, 1987. San Francisco: City Arts & Lectures, 1987.
  • An Evening with Adrienne Rich, November 30, 1993. San Francisco: City Arts & Lectures, 1993.
  • An Evening with Adrienne Rich, September 19, 1995. San Francisco: City Arts & Lectures, 1995.
  • Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995 (cassette). New York: Norton, 1995.
  • Charles Wright and Adrienne Rich (CD). New York: Academy of American Poets, 1997.
  • Adrienne Rich (CD). New York: Random House, 2002; Santa Ana, CA : Books on Tape/Random House, 2004.
  • Adrienne Rich: Reading from her poems (CD). London: Poetry Archive, 2005.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy WorldCat.[20]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  • Colby Langdell, Cheri (2004) Adrienne Rich: The moment of change Praeger ISBN 0-313-31605-8
  • Henneberg, Sylvia (2010) The Creative Crone: Aging and the poetry of May Sarton and Adrienne Rich University of Missouri ISBN 0-8262-1861-X
  • Keyes, Claire (2008) The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich University of Georgia Press ISBN 0-8203-3351-4
  • Shuman , R. Baird (2002) Great American Writers: Twentieth Century. Marshall Cavendish
  • Yorke, Liz (1998) Adrienne Rich: Passion, Politics and the Body Sage Publications ISBN 0-8039-7727-1



  1. Nelson, Cary, editor. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Oxford University Press. 2000.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shuman (2002) p1278
  3. 3.0 3.1 Martin, Wendy (1984) An American triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich The University of North Carolina Press p174 ISBN 0-8078-4112-9
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Guardian article, profile: "Poet and pioneer". 15 June 2002. Accessed 2010-08-10
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Shuman (2002) p1281
  6. “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  7. Cucinella, Catherine (2002) Contemporary American women poets: an A-to-Z guide. p295 Greenwood Press ISBN 0-313-31783-6
  8. In a Protest, Poet Rejects Arts Medal The New York Times article July 11, 1997. Accessed 10 February 2010
  9. Letter available at HotInk.
  10. "Poet Adrienne Rich, 82, has died". Los Angeles Times. March 28, 2012. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  11. Adrienne Rich grandchildren
  12. "Adrienne Rich". The Daily Telegraph. March 29, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2012. 
  13. Aldrich and Wotherspoon (2000) Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, Vol 2. Routledge p352 ISBN 0-415-22974-X.
  14. Langdell, Cheri Colby (2004) Adrienne Rich: the moment of change. p159 Praeger Publishers ISBN 0-313-31605-8
  15. "Defy the Space that Separates" The Nation, October 7, 1996.
  16. Shuman (2002) p1276
  17. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter R". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  18. Stephen Burt, No Scene Could Be Worse, London Review of Books, LRB Ltd. Web, Nov. 20, 2010.
  19. Adrienne Rich 1929-2012, Poetry Foundation. Web, Feb. 25, 2014.
  20. Search results = au:Adrienne Rich + audiobook, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 14, 2015.

External linksEdit

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