Adrienne Rich Biography

Academic, Scholar, Poet, Journalist (1929–2012)
Adrienne Rich is a U.S. poet, scholar and critic whose work exhibits her commitment to the women's movement and a lesbian/feminist aesthetic influence.


Adrienne Rich, U.S. poet, scholar and critic, was born on May 16, 1929, in Baltimore, MD. She was a college student when her poems were chosen for publication. Rich's increasing commitment to the women's movement and a lesbian/feminist aesthetic influenced much of her work. She also wrote compelling books of nonfiction.

Early Life

One of American's leading poets and essayists, Adrienne Rich was a champion for women's rights. Margalit Fox of The New York Times perhaps put it best, saying that Rich "accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of 'The Feminine Mystique,' did in prose." During her lifetime, she won countless honors for her works and her activism.

Born in 1929, Rich grew up in Baltimore as the daughter of a doctor and a concert pianist. She started writing poetry as a child with much encouragement from her father. In 1951, Rich published her first collection, A Change of World. She graduated from Radcliffe College that same year with a degree in English.

Women's Rights Activism

Two years later, Rich married an economics professor Alfred Conrad. The couple soon started a family that would grow to include three boys. The talented writer struggled with the traditional expectations of being a wife and mother, and this internal conflict found its way into her work. With her poems, Rich examined and challenged social norms and the imbalance of power between men and women. She also fought against the Vietnam War and for civil rights.

By 1970, Rich had become estranged from her husband and she decided to leave him. He committed suicide later that year. Continuing to commit herself to social activism, she released the poetry collection, Diving into the Wreck, in 1973. Rich won the National Book Award for this work the following year.

Rich published an essay collection, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, in 1976, which gave voice to many women's issues surrounding parenthood and marriage. Around this time, Rich came out as a lesbian. She later became involved with writer Michelle Cliff, and the couple stayed together for the rest of Rich's life.

Awards and Achievements

During her legendary career, Rich won many awards, including a fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1994. She did turn down one prestigious honor in 1997, refusing to accept a National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton for political reasons. More recently, Rich picked up the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2005 for School Among the Ruins, Poems 2000-2004.


Rich died on March 27, 2012, at her home in Santa Cruz, California, from complications related to her rheumatoid arthritis. She had suffered from the condition most of her life. Rich was 82 years old.

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