Authors: Marge Piercy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and novelist

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Poetry:

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

Long Fiction:

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

Vida, 1980

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

Drama:

The Last White Class: A Play About Neighborhood Terror, pr. 1978 (with Ira Wood)

Nonfiction:

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

Edited Text:

Early Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, 1987

Biography

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.{$I[AN]9810000954}{$I[A]Piercy, Marge}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Piercy, Marge}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Piercy, Marge}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Piercy, Marge}{$I[tim]1936;Piercy, Marge}

Marge Piercy

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.

BibliographyCooperman, Jeanette. The Broom Closet: Secret Meanings of Domesticity in Postfeminist Novels by Louise Erdrich, Mary Gordon, Toni Morrison, Marge Piercy, Jane Smiley, and Amy Tan. New York: P. Lang, 1999. A combination of cultural and literary analysis of the tropes of domesticity in these writers’ work.Doherty, Patricia. Marge Piercy: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. A thorough bibliography of primary and secondary sources, including electronic resources.Godwin, Michelle Gerise. “Marge Piercy.” The Progressive 65, no. 1 (2001): 27-30. Godwin describes her encounter with Marge Piercy at a poetry reading for the Worcester Women’s History Conference. The interview contains the author’s impressions as well as Piercy’s commentary on her life and work.Michael, Magali Cornier. Feminism and the Postmodern Impulse: Post-World War II Fiction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.Piercy, Marge. Sex Wars: A Novel of the Turbulent Post-Civil War Period. New York: William Morrow, 2005. This novel, set in post-Civil War New York, revolves around true-life and invented characters who deal with sex-based power issues.Robinson, Lillian S., ed. Modern Women Writers. Vol. 3. New York: Continuum, 1996. This reference volume provides an overview of eight critical articles relating to Piercy’s works from 1970 to 1985. The entry includes excerpts from essays by Jean Rosenbaum and Margaret Atwood.Rodden, John. “A Harsh Day’s Light: An Interview with Marge Piercy.” The Kenyon Review 20, no. 2 (1998): 132-143. Rodden recounts his visit to Piercy’s home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He relates Piercy’s conversation about her past and her art, including comments concerning particular works.Shand, Kerstin. The Repair of the World: The Novels of Marge Piercy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Analyzes Piercy’s novels up through The Longings of Women. Looks at her analysis of power patterns in intimate relationships and in society, and constructions of sexuality and gender as they relate to issues of class and ethnicity.Wainer, Nora R. “Women Writers of the Left: Le Sueur, Piercy, and Lessing.” Against the Current 3, no. 3 (1985): 17-21. Wainer discusses ways in which women writers are noted as feminists and ignored for their politics. Her focus is the radicalism of Piercy’s novels Small Changes, Vida, and Braided Lives in conjunction with the themes of Meridel Le Sueur and Doris Lessing.Walker, Sue, and Eugenia Hamner, eds. Ways of Knowing: Essays on Marge Piercy. Mobile, Ala.: Negative Capability Press, 1992. The collection includes thirteen perceptive essays discussing Piercy’s poetry and fiction. An extensive bibliography details the author’s publications and includes comprehensive lists of reviews and critical essays related to Piercy’s work.
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