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March 28, 2006

Adrienne Rich to Read at Smith College

Editor's note: For a photo of Adrienne Rich, contact Marti Hobbes.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—The Poetry Center at Smith College will present poet Adrienne Rich in a retrospective reading of her work at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 20, in John M. Greene Hall, with tributes by poets Joy Harjo, Cheryl Clarke, and Ed Pavlic. The event is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible.

Rich’s life and writings have bravely and eloquently challenged roles, myths and assumptions for a half a century. She has been a fervent activist against racism, sexism, economic injustice and homophobia. Her exacting and provocative work is required reading in English and women’s studies courses throughout the United States.

Rich has authored more than 15 volumes of poetry and four books of nonfiction prose, most recently “The School Among the Ruins,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, and “Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations.” Beginning with the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, awarded to her at age 22 for “A Change of World,” she has received countless literary honors, including the prestigious Tanning Award for Mastery in the Art of Poetry, two Guggenheims, the MacArthur Fellowship and the National Book Award, which she accepted with Audre Lorde and Alice Walker on behalf of all women who are silenced.

For Rich, activism and art are inexorably intertwined. “Poetry,” she writes, “can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of our resignation.” While her search for social justice has informed her life and her work, the poems, rather than suffering under the yoke of a heavy ideology, are brilliantly varied in their strategies and capacities to disturb and empower.

The one prize Rich chose to decline was the National Medal for the Arts, awarded in 1997 by the National Endowment for the Arts and President Clinton. “I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House,” she wrote in a letter to the New York Times, “because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. [A]rt means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner-table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people-at-large are so dishonored.”

Rich’s commitment to a ruthless examination of the self, as well as of society, has produced a body of work that traces her transformation from the well-behaved wife and formalist of the early poems to the fierce and politically artful writer she became. A partial, chronological listing of book titles (poetry and prose) provides an abbreviated narrative of this process and its concerns: “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” “Necessities of Life,” “The Will to Change,” “Diving into the Wreck,” “The Dream of a Common Language,” “On Lies, Secrets and Silence,” “A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far,” “Time’s Power,” “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” “Dark Fields of the Republic,” “Midnight Salvage” and “Arts of the Possible.”

For more information about Rich’s reading or the Poetry Center reading series, contact Cindy Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368.

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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