1929 - 2012

“False history gets made all day, any day; the truth of the new is never on the news.”

– Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s first collection, Change of World, was released in 1951. In the 60 years that followed Rich continued to write; transforming her life and work to become one of the most influential poets of her time. She is recognized for bringing the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront in poetry and keeping it there. Married in 1953, Rich settled with her husband in Cambridge and had three sons. In 1963 her writing became more personal with Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, which examined her female identity. Moving to New York in the mid-1960s, Rich’s heavy involvement in the anti-war, civil rights, and feminist movements was mirrored in her increasingly confrontational work. She separated from her husband in 1970, who later died by suicide. In 1974 she won the National Book Award for her exploratory collection Diving into the Wreck – often considered her masterwork. Rich accepted the honor on behalf of all women and shared it with co-nominees Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. In 1976 Rich began a long-term relationship with writer Michelle Cliff. It was with Twenty-One Love Poems (1977) and later Dream of a Common Language (1978) that she began her poetic treatment lesbian desire and sexuality. It soon became a prominent theme in her essays as well, such as ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’ from Blood, Bread, and Poetry (1986). Her two dozen collections of poetry and more than half dozen books of non-fiction prose include Of Woman Born (1976), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence (1979), A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981), and An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991). Her numerous awards and honors include Honorary Doctorates from Smith and Harvard, the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Frost Medal, the Poet’s Prize, and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Rich died on March 27, 2012 at her home in Santa Cruz, California at the age of 82.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White Jewish

Faith Construct Judaic

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980) Second-wave Feminism (1960-1990)

Field(s) of Contribution




Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Guggenheim Fellowship (1952)

National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1960)

National Book Award Winner For Poetry- Diving into the Wreck (1974)

Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press Associate (1977)

Honorary Doctorate Smith College (1979)

Inaugural Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1986)

Honorary Doctorate Harvard University (1989)

National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry (1989)

Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement For LGBT Writing (1990)

Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (1991)

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow (1991)

Frost Medal (1992)

Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1992)

MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant (1994)

National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (2006)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)


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Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell