Authors: Adrienne Rich

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Identity: Jewish, gay or bisexual

Author Works


A Change of World, 1951

The Diamond Cutters, and Other Poems, 1955

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, 1963

Necessities of Life, 1966

Selected Poems, 1967

Leaflets, 1969

The Will to Change, 1971

Diving in to the Wreck, 1973

Poems: Selected and New,1950-1974, 1975

Twenty-one Love Poems, 1976

The Dream of a Common Language, 1978

A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, 1981

Sources, 1983

The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984, 1984

Your Native Land, Your Life, 1986

Time’s Power: Poems, 1985-1988, 1989

An Atlas of the Difficult World: Poems, 1988-1991, 1991

Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970, 1993

Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems, 1991-1995, 1995

Selected Poems, 1950-1995, 1996

Midnight Salvage: Poems, 1995-1998, 1999

Fox: Poems, 1998-2000, 2001


Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, 1976

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978, 1979

Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985, 1986

What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, 1993

Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations, 2001


Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose: Poems, Prose, Reviews, and Criticism, 1993 (Barbara Chartesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, editors)

Edited Text:

The Best American Poetry, 1996, 1996


The daughter of a gentile mother, Helen Jones, who was an accomplished pianist, and a Jewish doctor of pathology at The Johns Hopkins University, Arnold Rich, Adrienne Cecile Rich has written poetry that is important to the women’s movement in the United States and to many of the social and political changes it engendered. Her mother instilled in her a love for the lyrical and the rhythmical, and her father, acting as tutor, encouraged her to master complicated poetic meters and rhyme schemes.{$I[AN]9810001619}{$I[A]Rich, Adrienne}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Rich, Adrienne}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Rich, Adrienne}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Rich, Adrienne}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Rich, Adrienne}{$I[tim]1929;Rich, Adrienne}

Adrienne Rich

(Library of Congress)

Rich attended Radcliffe College, from which she graduated in 1951, the same year in which her first book of poetry, A Change of World, was chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Award. Although she was later to be known for her feminist perspective, the poems in this volume were modeled after such famous and influential twentieth century male poets as William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Frost. In many of the poems she used a male persona.

During 1952 and 1953, as the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Rich traveled in England and Europe. After returning to the United States, she married Alfred H. Conrad, an economist at Harvard University, and they lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until 1966. In 1955 the first of three sons, David Conrad, was born, and Rich published her second book of poetry, The Diamond Cutters, and Other Poems, which won the Ridgely Torrence Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America. Although these poems are, like those of her first volume, largely imitative of male models, she creates some powerful women figures–their power, however, is the stereotypical power of mastery, control, intelligence, and order.

The birth of two sons–Paul Conrad in 1957 and Jacob Conrad in 1959–the National Institute of Arts and Letters award for poetry in 1960, and a 1961-1962 Guggenheim Fellowship for study in the Netherlands followed in rapid succession. Rich later, in Of Woman Born, articulated the stresses she experienced during this period as she attempted to balance the traditional female roles of wife and mother with the professional and psychological demands of her blossoming poetic career. Nevertheless, the 1960’s were prolific years, with the publication of four books of poetry evincing changes in metrical form and content as well as witnessing the evolution of a feminist consciousness. Throughout the decade Rich became increasingly more politically aware and active, especially in protesting the Vietnam War. Having moved with her family to New York in 1966, she became a lecturer at Swarthmore College and an adjunct professor in the Writing Division of Columbia University School of Arts. Rich also became involved in teaching in SEEK programs at City College of New York from 1968 to 1972 and 1974 to 1975. She also read widely in women’s literature and history and assumed a leadership role in the women’s movement. In 1970, her husband committed suicide, something Rich has never discussed publicly or used directly as a subject in her poetry.

In The Will to Change Rich depicts a radical restructuring of her own mind toward the nonrational and instinctual, which she regards as the female principle. The work is determinedly political, for in changing herself she found strategies for aiding in the transformation of receptive members of her reading audience. Increasingly, her purpose in writing poetry was to change lives. Her next volume of poetry, and her first explicitly feminist work, Diving into the Wreck, won for her the National Book Award in 1974. In it she depicts the patriarchal structure that gives overt formal power to men as the root of all oppression. In The Dream of a Common Language Rich is a woman writing only to other women, searching for a common language. In the middle of the collection is a series of twenty-one love poems written to another woman. Rich seeks to use her gifts as a poet not to attain uncommon or extraordinary achievements but to connect with other women.

Although Rich saw in her poetry a means of reaching and connecting with women, she also continued to teach, among her various appointments she was a professor of English at Rutgers University (1976-1979), an A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University (1981-1987), visiting professor at San Jose State University, California (1984-1996), and a professor of English and feminist studies at Stanford University, California (1986-1992). She became National Director for The National Writers’ Voice Project in 1992.

In the late 1970’s, Rich came out as a lesbian, and her poetry continued to reflect themes of female self-determination. She also started to explore her Jewish heritage, war, poverty, immigrant issues, minority issues, racism, and lesbian issues. She began to live with Michelle Cliff and, in 1981, became the coeditor of Sinister Wisdom, a lesbian/feminist journal. She has garnered numerous grants, prizes, and awards throughout her career. Her poetry continues to win recognition and respect and more important to give her the ability to influence new generations of readers.

BibliographyAltieri, Charles. “Self-Reflection as Action: The Recent Work of Adrienne Rich.” In Self and Sensibility in Contemporary American Poetry. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. This essay treats The Dream of a Common Language and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far. Altieri examines the way in which Rich’s poetry emphasizes “the connection between composition and constructing a responsible self.”Cooper, Jane Roberta, ed. Reading Adrienne Rich: Review and Re-Visions, 1951-1981. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. A useful collection of reviews and critical studies of Rich’s poetry and prose. It includes Auden’s foreword to A Change of World and other significant essays. The aim is for breadth and balance.Dickie, Margaret. Stein, Bishop, and Rich: Lyrics of Love, War, and Place. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Examination of the poets Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bishop, and Rich, with three of the book’s nine chapters devoted to Rich. Bibliography, index.Estrin, Barbara L. The American Love Lyric After Auschwitz and Hiroshima. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Estrin finds a connection between the language of the love lyric and hate speech. Using the specific examples of Wallace Stevens, Robert Lowell, and Adrienne Rich, she expresses a revisionist critique of twentieth American poetry, supporting the theory that the love lyric is political.Gelpi, Barbara Charlesworth, and Albert Gelpi, eds. Adrienne Rich’s Poetry and Prose. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. This volume in the Norton Critical Edition series presents a significant sampling of Rich’s work, biographical materials, and a carefully representative selection of essays (sometimes excerpted) and reviews. It provides a chronology and a list of selected criticism for further study.Juhasz, Suzanne. Naked and Fiery Forms: Modern American Poetry by Women, a New Tradition. New York: Harper & Row, 1976. This early study of the developing tradition of American poetry by women sets Rich’s work into the context of an evolving feminist tradition. The book examines themes and imagery.Keyes, Claire. The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986. Keyes discusses Rich as a feminist poet. Introduction provides a biographical and historical overview. Each of the ten chapters discusses one of Rich’s books, from A Change of World through A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far.Ratcliffe, Krista. Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996. A feminist perspective on the rhetoric and literary devices of these three writers. Bibliography, index.Templeton, Alice. The Dream and the Dialogue: Adrienne Rich’s Feminist Poetics. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994. Templeton finds each of Rich’s volumes both responsive to and party to the dominant critical issues at the time of publication. Templeton’s exploration of Rich’s “feminist poetics” posits feminism as a way of reading literature, so that reading in itself becomes a political act.Yorke, Liz. Adrienne Rich: Passion, Politics, and the Body. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1998. This accessible introduction to Rich’s work reviews the process and development of her ideas, tracing her place in the major debates within second-wave feminism. Yorke assesses Rich’s contribution to feminism and outlines her ideas on motherhood, heterosexuality, lesbian identity, Jewish identity, and issues of racial and sexual otherness.
Categories: Authors