Biography of Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was born in Maryland in 1929. Her father was Jewish, while her mother was Protestant. She attended Radcliffe College, and while a student there in 1951, W.H. Auden selected her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, for the Yale Series of Young Poets prize. After graduation, Rich traveled in Europe and married an economist, Alfred H. Conrad. With Conrad, Rich settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts and became the mother to three children before turning thirty. She continued to write poetry, twice winning the Guggenheim Fellowship. Her third volume of poetry, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963), is considered a turning-point in her career, as she moved away from poetry imitating the style of Auden, Yeats, and other modernists, and began writing from a position more influenced by her experience as a woman, wife, and mother. With Conrad, Rich moved to New York City in the mid-60s, becoming involved in protests against the Vietnam war as well as more interested in the history of women's literature. Her poetry shifted from rhymed, metered poetry to free verse.

In 1970, Rich left Conrad. That same year, Conrad committed suicide. After Conrad's death, Rich moved between Boston, Pennsylvania, and New York for various teaching positions, and wrote the "explicitly feminist" volume of poems Diving into the Wreck (1974), winning the National Book Award. During this period, Rich began to identify as a lesbian separatist, and began her lifelong partnership with Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff. In her 1987 collection Dream of a Common Language, she began to openly discuss lesbian relationships. In 1976, she settled in Santa Cruz with Cliff, teaching at several colleges in Northern California including Stanford University and Scripps College.

In the 1980s, Rich's work continued to interrogate women's identities, as well as the ways the power of language interacts with state power and other forms of power that give shape to women's lives. Her 1982 essay "Split at the Root" considers the importance of her split Jewish identity in her self-understanding, and shows an ongoing engagement with culture, religion, race, and class in her work. She published many more volumes of new and collected poetry, as well as several nonfiction collections on the aforementioned themes. Rich won most major U.S. literary awards, notable refusing the National Medal of Arts in 1997, stating, "I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration." Rich died in 2012 at eighty-two years old.


Study Guides on Works by Adrienne Rich

“Diving into the Wreck” is the titular poem of Adrienne Rich’s seventh collection of poetry, which won the National Book Award in 1974. Written at the height of the second-wave feminist movement, this collection is considered one of Rich’s most...

"In Those Years" is the second poem in Adrienne Rich's Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (1995). Written after the end of the Reagan presidency, this poem appears in a section of the book entitled "What Kind of Times Are These." It thus...

Written in 1974 during the politically-charged second-wave feminist movement, which began in the 1960s as a movement to increase women’s equality, Adrienne Rich's poem “Power” was clearly a political statement. Rich was heavily involved in the...