Breaking Camp, 1968
Hard Loving, 1969
Four-Telling, 1971 (with Bob Hershon, Emmett Jarrett, and Dick Lourie)
To Be of Use, 1973
Living in the Open, 1976
The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing, 1978
The Moon Is Always Female, 1980
Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy, 1982
Stone, Paper, Knife, 1983
My Mother’s Body, 1985
Available Light, 1988
Mars and Her Children, 1992
Eight Chambers of the Heart, 1995
What Are Big Girls Made Of? Poems, 1997
The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme, 1999
Early Grrrl, 1999 (also known as Written in Bone: The Early Poems of Marge Piercy, 1998)
Colors Passing Through Us, 2003
Going Down Fast, 1969
Dance the Eagle to Sleep, 1970
Small Changes, 1973
Woman on the Edge of Time, 1976
The High Cost of Living, 1978
Braided Lives, 1982
Fly Away Home, 1984
Gone to Soldiers, 1987
Summer People, 1989
He, She, and It, 1991 (also known as Body of Glass, 1992)
The Longings of Women, 1994
City of Darkness, City of Light, 1996
Storm Tide, 1998 (with Ira Wood)
Three Women, 1999
The Last White Class: A Play About Neighborhood Terror, pr. 1978 (with Ira Wood)
Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt: Poets on Poetry, 1982
The Earth Shines Secretly: A Book of Days, 1990
So You Want to Write: How to Master the Craft of Writing Fiction and the Personal Narrative, 2001 (with Ira Wood)
Sleeping with Cats: A Memoir, 2002
Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, 1987
Marge Piercy, a daughter of the Jewish millwright Robert Piercy and his wife, Bert Bunnin Piercy, grew up in a primarily African American, working-class Detroit neighborhood. Coming from a poor white family, she early realized that she was a minority member of her community, and this sense of minority status remained with her, in various forms, throughout her life. As a child Piercy learned to escape feelings of loneliness through reading. She was the first member of her family to go to college. More important, she broke from the pattern most of her friends followed, that of marrying young and often unwisely, having too many children, being dependent and docile, and living life as housewives who, as Piercy says in some of her poems, are property, like dogs with tags.
Piercy was an outstanding student who during her undergraduate career at the University of Michigan won the coveted Hopgood Prize in writing several times. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1957 she continued her studies at Northwestern University, where she received a master’s degree in 1958. Piercy realized early that her future was in writing, but it took a decade before she was able to support herself as a writer.
After completing her education Piercy supported herself as well as she could with odd jobs that left time for writing. During this period of great social unrest in the United States, particularly in Detroit, her hometown, she was an organizer for the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and active in the Civil Rights movement that was developing its own strong rhetoric. As the decade advanced, however, Piercy came to realize that SDS and the Civil Rights movement were both based on a paradigm of male supremacy that she could not accept. By the end of the decade she had become a committed feminist. Because of her work in this arena many critics came to view her writing almost exclusively in its political rather than its artistic context.
Her first six novels, each with feminist protagonists, were rejected by every publisher to whom she sent them, mostly because of the strident note of feminism. In 1968, however, Breaking Camp, her first collection of poems, appeared, in which she makes statements similar to those in the rejected novels. About the same time the novel Going Down Fast, too, found a publisher, partly because Piercy was beginning to establish a reputation, but partly because this novel has a male protagonist and lacks the earlier “militant” tone.
In 1973 two of Piercy’s most significant books were published. In the novel Small Changes, which focuses on Beth, a working-class woman, and Miriam, a middle-class Jewish intellectual, who are both oppressed and exploited by a male-dominated culture, she demonstrates how sexism pervades every social sphere. A pivotal book in Piercy’s development, Small Changes irritated even some feminist critics because it did not contain a single male character with any redeeming qualities. In Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She, and It Piercy’s feminist commitment develops an important ecological dimension. Locked away in a mental institution, Connie Ramos, the protagonist of Woman on the Edge of Time, fantasizes about two potential future worlds, one communal, the other militaristic and death-driven. Set in the year 2059, He, She, and It depicts an Earth ill-suited to sustain human life. Even these utopian novels are skillful examples of what Piercy calls “character-centered fiction,” works whose plot arises out of the development of characters.
In To Be of Use, a collection of poems, Piercy expresses what she wants all her work to be: something of use to women, a reference point as their consciousness is raised about their place in society. The poems in Available Light, whose title suggests enlightenment, are less strident and focus mostly on her early life, on her Jewishness, and on her relationship with her father. Available Light seems a book of reconciliation rather than of protest. Her poetry of the 1990’s was continuously well received; What Are Big Girls Made Of? received a Library Association Notable Book Award, and The Art of Blessing the Day received the Paterson Poetry Prize.
Piercy has also continued writing novels. The Longings of Women are for a safe, secure place to call home. The three protagonists–Mary, a recently divorced, homeless house cleaner; Leila, an unhappily married professor who is one of Mary’s clients; and Becky, a young woman accused of conspiring to murder her husband–are all dealing with problematic relationships with men. The Three Women of Piercy’s 1999 novel are three generations of independent Jewish women whose bonds become ever closer over the course of the narrative.
Although Piercy’s work has received numerous honors, including a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize, and the Arthur C. Clarke award, it is frequently dismissed as too political, a weak criticism that Piercy charges is itself politically motivated. Once the passions of protest have lost their immediacy, critics will likely find in the work of this prolific writer considerably more literary merit than has been ascribed to it in its own time.