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Adrienne Rich, 1929 – 2012

Many students of literature will know some of the prose writing of the poet Adrienne Rich, who has died aged 82, if not her poetry. ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision’ (1972) urges readers to rethink – recognise, even – the patriachal assumptions underpinning literary criticism. Her obituaries remind us that she remained a fully committed writer to the last; Saturday’s Guardian piece by Julie Bindel notes how many honours Rich turned down, for she would not accept them for the wrong reasons. The L.A. Times notice reprints some of her poetry.

Rich rejected the cult of personality and the rivalries it produces. In 1974 three poets wrote a collective acceptance speech for the National Book Awards. Here it is:

We, Audre Lord, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain […] none of us could accept this money for herself, nor could she let go unquestioned the terms on which poets are given or denied honor and livelihood in this world, especially when they are women. We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women, of every color, identification or derived class: the poet, the housewife, the lesbian, the mathematician, the mother, the dishwasher, the pregnant teen-ager, the teacher, the grandmother, the prostitute, the philosopher, the waitress, the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.

(repr. Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own, revised edition (London: Virago, 1982), 315-16)

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