Revered poet Adrienne Rich passed away on Tuesday from complications with rheumatoid arthritis. She was 82 years old.
Rich was born to a family of means in 1929; her father was a respected pathologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University, her mother a former concert pianist. Her father had very specific ideas about what he wanted for his daughter; she took his expectations to heart and excelled in academics. Her heart belonged to words from an early age, and her earliest work of poetry–“A Change Of World”–earned her the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Award. She later went on to receive a MacArthur “Genius” Award–one of many honors bestowed upon her–and made the news in 1997 when she refused the National Medal Of Arts from President Clinton, citing political reasons.
In fact, Rich’s work was very political and often earned her criticism for it’s harshness. She threaded themes of feminism and war with personal stories, like the fact that she was forced to keep her Jewish bloodline a secret for many years as a girl. Her 1976 collection “Of Woman Born: Motherhood As Institution And Experience” is widely regarded as the book that cemented her a place within the feminist hierarchy, although her “masterpiece” is considered to be “Diving Into The Wreck“.
What inspired and intensified Rich’s poetry was simply what was going on around her: war, the battle of the sexes, and where a woman’s place was…as well as how that changed over the years. She grew up in a time when women had very few rights and many expectations, and by the time she was an adult, her generation was ready to throw off the cloak of complacency and do their own thing for a change.
She served as a voice for women everywhere, but her works reached out to more than just those with feminist ideals; her collections have sold more than 750,000 copies.