The Baltimore Literary Heritage Project

Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich pic
'...The Hope of Telling the Utter Truth'
[Baltimore's] Pennsylvania Railroad station, which has changed astonishingly little since I was a child in the 1930s and 40s-gateway to distances, journeys, places of departures and returns in my later years, places of meetings and separations.

On one of her infrequent visits to Baltimore, according to the Baltimore Sun, Adrienne Rich wanted to make sure that her favorite local attractions had not changed. She mentioned her planned visit to the Lexington Market, for crab cakes. She also expressed a hope that some things in Baltimore had changed—racism, classism, and prejudice against homosexuals.

Born in Baltimore in 1929, Adrienne Rich started writing poetry as a child. Her father, a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, introduced her to great literature and encouraged her writing by giving her poems to copy. She continued her exploration of literature and writing at Radcliffe, from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1951. That same year, W.H. Auden selected her first book, A Change of World, for his Yale Series of Younger Poets. Over the next couple decades, she became and is still one of the leading feminist voices in contemporary literature.

Many readers know Rich from Diving Into the Wreck (1974), a book embraced by peace activists, gay activists, and feminists, which received the National Book Award. (She accepted the award with Alice Walker and Audre Lord "on behalf of silenced women everywhere.") Poet and scholar Ruth Whitman called the title poem of that book "one of the great poems of our time," and Claremont College professor and literary critic Cheryl Walker described it as "surely one of the most beautiful poems to come out of the women's movement." Among Rich's other works are Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976), Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981), and The Fact of a Doorframe (2001). Rich has also established herself as a skilled essayist." Her book On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978 (1979) is a good introduction to her philosophy and politics. In this and in other volumes, Duke University Professor Deborah Pope says, "the work of Adrienne Rich has persistently resonated at the heart of contemporary feminism and its resistance to racism, militarism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism."

About growing up gay in Baltimore, she said, "You know, I never heard the word 'lesbian' and the word 'homosexual' then, except for a few men who people called names and intimated there was something wrong with them. Well, of the eight to ten people who were part of my regular high school group, three of us were gay."

Despite her sexual identity, she married economics professor Alfred H. Conrad in 1953 and gave birth to three sons, before leaving him in 1970.

Rich has often been outspoken. In 1997, she refused the National Medal of Arts, feeling that the Clinton administration's "cynical politics" were not consistent with art. (She went on to say, "[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.") In 2003, Rich, along with many of America's leading poets, turned down an invitation to the Bush White House for a poetry event, in protest over the Iraq war.

Poet W.S. Merwin said of her, "All of her life she has been in love with the hope of telling the utter truth, and her command of language from the first has been startlingly powerful." Her work has received many awards, among them the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the Fund for Human Dignity Award of the National Gay Task Force, the Poets' Prize, the Brandeis Creative Arts Medal, the National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Her recent honors include the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for "School Among the Ruins," and the 2006 National Book Foundation Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 2007, she published a collection of her poetry from 2004-2006, Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth.

Adrienne Rich lives in California.

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