Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich's life and writings have bravely and eloquently challenged roles, myths, and assumptions for 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 U.S.

Rich has authored more than fifteen volumes of poetry and four books of non-fiction prose, most recently Fox and Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations. Beginning with the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, awarded to her at age twenty-two for A Change of World, she has received countless literary honors, including the prestigious Tanning Award for Mastery in the Art of Poetry, an Academy of Poetry Fellowship, the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Common Wealth Award in Literature, two Guggenheims, the MacArthur Fellowship, the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 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. As Poet David Wagoner’s 1996 citation proclaimed: “At every stage of her development, she has not simply pleased her admirers, but has surprised them. Her ingenuity in structure and diction, the variety and intensity of her forms and voices, and the emotional depth they have enabled her to reach…have made her lifetime of work a demonstration of what the Tanning Prize was meant to reward: mastery.”

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, Arts of the Possible.

Rich’s work is living, necessary proof of the need for and the possibility of union between art and politics. As the late June Jordan put it, she “inflames our otherwise withering moral consciousness with tender and engendering inventions of language.” In the words of poet W. S. Merwin, “Adrienne Rich’s poems, volume after volume, have been the makings of one of the authentic, unpredictable, urgent, essential voices of our time.”

Adrienne Rich's visit to Smith honors Carol T. Christ
upon her inauguration as the college's tenth president.



Poems by Adrienne Rich


Four: History

There Is No One Story and One Story Only


(Available as a broadside.)
































Poetry Center Readings:

Fall 2002 - Celebrating the Inauguration    

                   of President Carol Christ           

Spring 2006