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Rich, Adrienne (1929-2012)  
page: 1  2  3  

In the mid-1980s, Rich's fusing of the personal and political was poignantly voiced in "In Memoriam: D.K." (1986), her tribute to one of her ablest critics and supporters, David Kalstone:

A man walking on the street
feels unwell has felt unwell
all week, a little. . . Give me your living hand
   If I could take the hour
death moved into you undeclared, unnamed
--even if sweet, if I could take that hour.

Rich mourns this sensitive, invaluable poetic interpreter and teacher who died of AIDS.

Committed to plumbing her various heritages, Rich's poetry contains depths and breadths of psychological and social meanings that resonate to and from identities, subjectivities, rationalities, and emotions.

Rich had, as Olga Broumas notes, "extraordinary powers--of perception, eloquence, rhythm, courage, the rare fusion of vision and action, the ability to suggest not only to others but to herself a course of action in the mind and follow it in the next breath in the world," and thus many are "drawn by the mind of [this] woman whose work and life have been an act of becoming conscious against the established order."

As Gloria Bowles observed more than a decade ago, Adrienne Rich has time and again exhorted feminist scholars to remain "dedicated to the process of discussion and reformulation," always remaining open to the previously unimaginable possibilities of reconceptualization.

In "Voices from the air" (1993), Rich declared of her medium that

A poem can't free us from the struggle for existence, but it can uncover desires and appetites buried under the accumulating emergencies of our lives, the fabricated wants and needs we have had urged on us, have accepted as our own. It's not a philosophical or psychological blueprint; it's an instrument for embodied experience. But we seek that experience, or recognize it when it is offered to us, because it reminds us in some way of our need. After that rearousal of desire, the task of acting on that truth, or making love, or meeting other needs, is ours.

Adrienne Rich gave new meaning to Ralph Waldo Emerson's nineteenth-century proclamation that the poet is no mere versifier but a seer and sayer, for this American lesbian feminist poet uttered truths denied or previously unrealized so plainly, memorably, and forcibly that they demand to be reckoned with. Indeed, the vast number of books, articles, and papers published on Rich testify to the generative nature of her work.

More than two decades ago, Rich answered her own repeatedly reiterated query in "Natural Resources" (1977): "I have to cast my lot with those / who age after age, perversely, / with no extraordinary power, / reconstitute the world."

Through her monumental gift of poetry and her activism on behalf of lesbian and gay liberation and civil rights for everyone, she indeed cast her lot with those who reconstitute the world. Her poems, her essays, interviews, and speeches are all a call to action, for they each remind us, as she remarked in 1991, that "Experience is always larger than language."

Adrienne Rich died on March 27, 2012 at her home in Santa Cruz, California of complications from rheumatoid arthritis. She was survived by her life-partner Michelle Cliff; three sons; a sister; and two grandchildren.

Martha Nell Smith

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Since Stonewall various political agendas have dominated American lesbian literature.

social sciences >> Overview:  Compulsory Heterosexuality

Compulsory heterosexuality is the assumption that women and men are innately attracted to each other emotionally and sexually and that heterosexuality is universal, a view that leads to an institutional inequality of power that privileges heterosexual males and denigrates women, especially lesbians.

literature >> Overview:  Elegy

A poetic response to the death of a greatly loved person, the elegy has had since classical times a homoerotic component.

literature >> Overview:  Feminist Literary Theory

Feminist literary theory is a complex, dynamic area of study that draws from a wide range of critical theories.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Left

The Gay Left refers to a cluster of positions on the political spectrum that has existed within the lesbian and gay rights movement at least since the Stonewall riots.

literature >> Overview:  Gender

The theory that gender relations are socially constructed categories of meaning has opened up a number of new areas in lesbian, gay, and queer studies.

literature >> Overview:  Interrelations of Gay and Lesbian Literature

Since the histories of gay men and lesbians are radically different, the challenge is to describe interrelations in the gay and lesbian literary heritages without blurring them into each other.

literature >> Overview:  Jewish-American Literature

Jewish-American gay and lesbian literature is marked by its rich heritage, diverse subject matter, and thriving vitality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

literature >> Overview:  Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

Although gay, lesbian, and queer theory are related practices, the three terms delineate separate emphases marked by different assumptions about the relationship between gender and sexuality.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Lesbian

Since the 1960s, the general trend in lesbian poetry has been collective and political rather than purely aesthetic.

literature >> Overview:  Romantic Friendship: Female

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, intimate, exclusive, and often erotic romantic friendships between women were largely perceived as normal and socially acceptable.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

literature >> Broumas, Olga

Greek-born lesbian poet and translator Olga Broumas writes openly erotic poems that combine ancient Greek echoes and late twentieth-century idiom.

literature >> Cliff, Michelle

Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff explores issues of race, class, and sexuality in her prose and poetry.

literature >> Ginsberg, Allen

The forthrightly gay Allen Ginsberg is probably the best-known American poet to emerge in the post-World War II period.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

literature >> Nestle, Joan

Through her writing, teaching, editing, and activism, Joan Nestle has devoted her life to promoting awareness of glbtq culture and advancing glbtq equality.

literature >> Pratt, Minnie Bruce

Award-winning author Minnie Bruce Pratt has written moving and erotic poems and stories that explore sex and gender issues, as well as powerful essays that decry bigotry in its many forms.

literature >> Walker, Alice

In her explorations of the damage done to the individual self by racism and sexism, Alice Walker views lesbianism as natural and freeing, an aid to self-knowledge and self-love.


Alkalay-Gut, Karen. "The Lesbian Imperative in Poetry." Contemporary Review 24 (1983): 209-211.

Bennett, Paula. My Life a Loaded Gun: Female Creativity and Feminist Poetics. Boston: Beacon, 1986; rpt. My Life a Loaded Gun: Dickinson, Plath, Rich and Female Creativity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Bulkin, Elly. "An Interview with Adrienne Rich." Conditions: One: A Magazine of Writing by Women with an Emphasis on Writing by Lesbians 1.1 (April 1977); and "An Interview with Adrienne Rich." Conditions: Two 1.2 (October 1977).

Carruthers, Mary J. "The Re-Vision of the Muse: Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Olga Broumas." The Hudson Review 36.2 (Summer 1983): 293-322.

Cooper, Jane Roberta, ed. Reading Adrienne Rich: Reviews and Re-Visions, 1951-1981. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

DeShazer, Mary K. Inspiring Women: Reimagining the Muse. New York: Pergamon Press, 1986.

Diehl, Joanne Feit. Women Poets and the American Sublime. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. "The Critique of Consciousness and Myth in Levertov, Rich and Rukeyser." Feminist Studies 3.1-2 (1975): 199-221.

Erkkila, Betsy. The Wicked Sisters: Women Poets, Literary History & Discord. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Farwell, Marilyn R. "Adrienne Rich and an Organic Feminist Criticism." College English 39.2 (1977): 191-203.

Ferguson, Ann, Jaquelyn N. Zita, and Kathryn Pyne Addelson. "Viewpoint: On 'Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence': Defining the Issues." Signs 7.1 (Autumn 1981): 158-199.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. "'I Go Where I Love': An Intertextual Study of H.D. and Adrienne Rich." Signs 9.2 (Winter 1983): 228-245.

Gelpi, Barbara Charlesworth, and Albert Gelpi, eds. Adrienne Rich's Poetry: Texts of the Poems; The Poet on Her Work; Reviews and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1975.

Hedley, Jane. "Surviving to Speak New Language: Mary Daly and Adrienne Rich." Hypatia 7.2 (Spring 1992): 40-62.

Kalstone, David. Five Temperaments: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

McDaniel, Judith. Reconstructing the World: The Poetry and Visions of Adrienne Rich. Argyle, N.Y.: Spinsters Ink, 1979.

Ostriker, Alicia. "Her Cargo: Adrienne Rich and the Common Language." American Poetry Review 6.4 (1979): 6-10; rpt. Writing Like a Woman. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Schwarz, Judith. "Questionnaire on Issues in Lesbian History." Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 4.3 (1979): 1-12.

Stimpson, Catharine. "Adrienne Rich and Lesbian/Feminst Poetry." Parnassus: Poetry in Review 12-13 (1985): 249-268.

Strine, Mary S. "The Politics of Asking Women's Questions: Voice and Value in the Poetry of Adrienne Rich." Text and Performance Quarterly 9.1 (January 1989): 24-41.


    Citation Information
    Author: Smith, Martha Nell  
    Entry Title: Rich, Adrienne  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 29, 2012  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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