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Blood, Bread, and Poetry


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Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed, and widely taught, Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose. Her constellation of honors includes two National Book Awards, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, and a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation. Ms. Rich's volumes of poetry include The Dream of a Common Language, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, An Atlas of the Difficult World, The School Among the Ruins, and Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth. Her prose includes the essay collections On Lies, Secrets, and Silence; Blood, Bread, and Poetry; an influential essay, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," and the nonfiction book Of Woman Born, which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct. In 2010, she was honored with The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry's Lifetime Recognition Award.


Rich is the author of the prize-winning Your Native Land, Your Life and 12 other books of poems, yet these lucid, searching essays spring from her involvement since the early '70s with the feminist movement, and, where they touch on poetry, examine the social and political contexts of its making. In some of them Rich explores her complex identity as white, middle-class, Jewish, lesbian and American, and discusses her radicalization through the influence, largely, of Mary Wollstonecraft, James Baldwin and Simone de Beauvoir. In other pieces she assails ``enforced heterosexuality'' and, as it obtains in academia as well as society at large, ``the ideology of white male supremacy.'' Rich, who visited the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, considers that the United States has been ``deep-frozen for decades in the Cold War,'' but believes that American feminism, and especially black American feminism, can do much to foster the movements for sexual and political freedom throughout the world. (December 28)

Rich's support of feminism and lesbian and gay rights, her protest against racism and anti-Semitism, and her belief that artist, university, and state should find moral commitment are all recurring themes in these recent commencement speeches, reviews, lectures, articles, and addresses. Rich not only asserts but demonstrates that every woman's soul is haunted ``by the spirits of earlier women who fought for their ummet needs'': an essay on Lorraine Hansberry tracks those painful contradictions of a black, female writer addressing those who are neither, while in an essay on Jewish identity, Rich herself exemplifies the difficulty of confronting one's roots. Throughout, Rich underscores the duty of American woman artists ``to take women's existence seriously as a source for art.'' Highly recommended. Rosaly DeMaios Roffman, English Dept., Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania

"Rich not only asserts but demonstrates that every woman's soul is haunted 'by the spirits of earlier women who fought for their unmet needs'... Throughout, Rich underscores the duty of American women artists to 'take women's existence seriously as a source of art.' Highly recommended." -- Library Journal

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