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April 05, 2012 - Image 90

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-04-05

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Obituaries from page 89

Pioneering Feminist

Poet Adrienne Rich dies at 82.

Alan D. Abbey



drienne Rich, who grappled
publicly, artistically and graphi-
cally with her feminism, lesbi-
anism and Jewish identity for decades in
her groundbreaking poetry and essays,
died at 82 on March 27, 2012.
In the wake of her death, Rich was
described as "pioneering,""one of
America's foremost public intellectu-
als" and "one of the country's most hon-
ored and influential poets," among other
categorizations lauding her accomplish-
ments and impact.
Rich won, among many other plau-
dits, the Yale Young Poets prize, Yale
Bollingen Prize for American Poetry,
National Book Award, Dorothea Tanning
Award, Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Lannan
Lifetime Achievement Award, Academy of
American Poets Fellowship, MacArthur

Foundation "Genius" Award and National
Medal for the Arts in 1997, which she
refused. In her letter of refusal, the pro-
vocative poet wrote to then-President
Bill Clinton: "The radical disparities of
wealth and power in America are wid-
ening at a devastating rate. A president
cannot meaningfully honor certain token
artists while the people at large are so
In later years, she began to explore her
Jewish identity, which she had been forced
to hide or suppress in her youth. In collec-
tions such as Your Native Land, Your Life
(1986), Time's Power: Poems, 1985-1988
(1988) and An Atlas of the Difficult World:
Poems, 1988-1991 (1991), Rich begins to
address the Jewish heritage that she was
forced to hide during her early life.
She was born in Baltimore to Arnold
Rice Rich, a doctor and assimilated Jew,
who taught at Johns Hopkins University.
Her mother, Helen Gravely Jones Rich, was


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a Christian pianist and composer who had
her daughter baptized and confirmed in
the Episcopal Church.
Her ambitious and talented parents
pushed Rich into writing poetry in her
childhood, but something in it spoke
to her. "I loved the sound, the music of
poetry from the very beginning;' she said
in 1987."Things could be said in poems
that could be said in no other way"
Rich graduated from Radcliffe College
in 1951, the year she published her first
book of poetry, A Change of World. She
married economist Alfred Haskell Conrad
in 1953 and had three sons. She said
she was radicalized by the Civil Rights
Movement, and she became a prominent
critic of the Vietnam War. By 1963, she
was writing in a feminist voice. By the end
of the decade her lesbianism had become
public and embedded in her work. Poet
and novelist Michelle Cliff became her life
companion. The two lived in Santa Cruz,

Adrienne Rich


The New York Times noted that for all
of Rich's output — dozens of volumes of
prose and poetry, public appearances and
interviews, she "retained a dexterous com-
mand of the plain, pithy utterance." In a
1984 speech, she summed up her reason
for writing — and, by loud unspoken
implication, her reason for being — in
just seven words ... "The creation of a
society without domination." ❑

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