Adrienne Rich (Source:AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) - Adrienne Rich, a fiercely gifted, award-winning poet whose socially conscious verse influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists, has died. She was 82.
Rich died Tuesday at her Santa Cruz home from complications from rheumatoid arthritis, said her son, Pablo Conrad. She had lived in Santa Cruz since the 1980s.
Through her writing, Rich explored topics such as women’s rights, racism, sexuality, economic justice and love between women.
Rich published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She won a National Book Award for her collection of poems “Diving into the Wreck” in 1974, when she read a statement written by herself and fellow nominees Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, “refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women.”
In 2004, she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her collection “The School Among the Ruins.” According to her publisher, W.W. Norton, her books have sold between 750,000 and 800,000 copies, a high amount for a poet.
She gained national prominence with her third poetry collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” in 1963. Citing the title poem, University of Maryland professor Rudd Fleming wrote in The Washington Post that Rich “proves poetically how hard it is to be a woman - a member of the second sex.”
She was, like so many, profoundly changed by the 1960s. Rich married Harvard University economist Alfred Conrad in 1953 and they had three sons. But she left him in 1970 and eventually lived with her partner, writer and editor Michelle Cliff. She used her experiences as a mother to write “Of Woman Born,” her groundbreaking feminist critique of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, published in 1976.
"Rich is one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism," Erica Jong once wrote.
Unlike most American writers, Rich believed art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value - the dignity and human rights of all citizens,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “That is, the resources of a society should be shared and the wealth redistributed as widely as possible.”
"She was very courageous and very outspoken and very clear," said her longtime friend W.S. Merwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. "She was a real original, and whatever she said came straight out of herself."
As Merwin noted, Rich was a hard poet to define because she went through so many phases. Or, as Rich wrote in “Delta,” ’’If you think you can grasp me, think again.”