Mary Oliver was born to Edward William and Helen M. V. Oliver on September 10, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland. Her father was a social studies teacher and an athletics coach in the Cleveland public schools. She began writing poetry at the age of 14, and at 17 visited the home of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Austerlitz, upper New York state. She and Norma, the poet's sister, became friends, and Oliver "more or less lived there for the next six or seven years, running around the 800 acres like a child, helping Norma, or at least being company to her," and assisting with organizing the late poet's papers.
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