Poet and Feminist Activist Adrienne Rich

My most recent book is a biography of Adrienne Rich, one of the great poets of the mid to late 20th century. She started out in the 1950s writing traditional rhymed and metered verse and evolved into a free-verse poet whose searching meditations and lesbian-feminist pronouncements gave the women’s movement a powerful and eloquent literary voice. 

People often ask me how long it took to write The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography (Doubleday, 2020) and how I went about it. The answer to the first question is about five years. I began my work in 2014, two years after Rich died. As for the second, the process involved a combination of archival research, extensive interviewing of a great many people in Rich’s milieu, and close readings of Rich’s many collections of poetry and essays.

As a scholar-journalist, I greatly enjoyed the interviews. Some of the people I spoke with (or corresponded with) had known Rich’s parents, Dr. Arnold Rich and Helen Jones Rich, in Baltimore, and others were Adrienne’s classmates who became friends with her at Roland Park Country School or Radcliffe College. Adrienne’s sister, Cynthia Rich, was an invaluable source of information and insight. I also interviewed prominent economists who had worked with Dr. Alfred Conrad, Rich’s husband, in the economics department at Harvard or later in his career at CUNY.

For the chapters covering her middle age and later life, I talked with feminist scholars and writers who became acquainted with Rich after her husband’s death in 1970. Many of them remembered her as a feminist heroine who had transformed their lives and perceptions with her poetry and her lesbian-feminist essays. I also interviewed women and men who were friends with Rich’s partner, the Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff, and neighbors who lived next door to Rich and Cliff in Santa Cruz, California. All of these conversations enlivened my research and deepened my understanding of Adrienne Rich’s life as a poet, intellectual, partner, and friend. 

My online conversations about the Rich book are archived on this site under Interviews

Novelist Ann Petry, Poet Lucille Clifton, and Beat Movement Raconteur Herbert Huncke

My other books include two critical studies containing biographical material, Ann Petry (Twayne) and Wild Blessings: The Poetry of Lucille Clifton (LSU Press), and a biography, Herbert Huncke: The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation (Schaffner Press). I have also published a novel titled Tipton (Knox Robinson) and a poetry collection, The Dreams of Mary Rowlandson (Loom Press), and I have coedited two collections of scholarly essays, one on Ann Petry’s short fiction and another on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

For a bio note about me, see my author’s page on the Penguin Random House website.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

7 thoughts on “Home

  1. My wife gave me your book, The Power of Adrienne Rich, as a holiday gift. I loved it. I loved the context it gave me for her poems which have been beacons for me to an examined life for 45 years. I was a student at Dartmouth College 1973-1977. In my junior or senior year I had the good fortune of attending readings by Maya Angelou, Adrienne Rich and Mary Daly. Those were life changing events for me as I was coming out to myself, and realized seeing the women from the community who came to the reading that I was not alone in NH. Later, in the mid 1980’s I too was deeply involved in New Jewish Agenda. I traveled regularly from my home in central VT to NYC for national planning sessions and events. I have a photo of AR that I would like to send you from one of those events. Thank you for writing this book. I will cherish it as I do my collection of AR’s books. LEM

  2. What a beautiful book on Adrienne Rich. The writing is poetry separate from that of Ms. Rich’s. I attended University of Hawaii in 1974 when Adrienne Rich was a guest speaker in my American Studies class. I have quoted several of her powerful verses since that time. In my work as a Jungian oriented psychotherapist, I am naturally curious as to who the analyst was who had the affair with Alfred and betrayed Adrienne! Ms. Holladay had too much class to tell us! My only criticism on this amazing and soulful book, is that I thought Sylvia Plath could have been treated with a little more understanding and compassion. I hear her quoted more often than I do Adrienne Rich and Ms. Plath had a much shorter life. At any rate, This book was stunning and engrossing and written with the insight of a scholar, as well as the discipline of one. Thank you, Ms. Holladay!

    Debra Schroeder Thompson, PhD., LCSW., Clinical Member: AAMFT

  3. This was a great, compelling read. Well done! Your book inspired me to go back and re-read my AR books selected by Dr Sharon Davie’s (CLAS 82)
    Why though so little on her 3 sons?

  4. Hi Noreen, Thanks for writing. AR’s sons didn’t agree to interviews, so I opted to respect their privacy and keep information about them to a minimum.

  5. I am so grateful for this biography of Adrienne Rich. I have never taken a class with her, yet she has been, in so many ways, my teacher. Her works — especially Dream of A Common Language, Lies, Secrets, and Silences, Wild Patience, Of Woman Born, Dark Fields, Atlas of a Difficult World, issues of Sinister Wisdom are sacred texts in my life
    You are one hell of a biographer and writer. In your beautiful prose, you gave me a deeper insight into her life and mind. I was unable to keep from gasping, at times, nodding, and saying yes, oh, wow, and ah! as her life illuminated my own. I did not want to put the book down — it drew me in and moved me on — with keen insight into history — through past decades and onto the dark field of the present.
    Thank you. I will also look for your other writing.

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