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.
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