We were saddened yesterday to learn that Adrienne Rich, the incomparable feminist poet and essayist, passed away at 82. The poet, whose work has been an essential part of the American poetic canon for the last fifty years, was much-lauded in her many years of activity, receiving (among other honors) a Yale Younger Poets Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a National Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 1997, she was awarded the National Medal for the Arts, the most prestigious award an artist can win, and refused it, writing to then-president Clinton that “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate… A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
Rich’s body of work is massive and varied, and there are several nearly all-inclusive collections floating around (our guess is that there are about to be a few more), but here we’ve collected what we feel to be the essential books from this incredible poet, who will long be remembered as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
The Will to Change, 1971
Many critics consider the late ’60s and early ’70s to be the pinnacle of Rich’s work — a time at which both the American social and political climate and transformations in Rich’s own personal life were coming to a head. “Rich’s transformation has been astonishing to watch,” wrote critic Ruth Whitman. “In one woman the history of women in the 20th century, from careful traditional obedience to cosmic awareness, defying the mode of our time.” Plus, this collection is home to the outstanding “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” which attacks both the war in Vietnam and gender inequity in Rich’s increasingly loose, lovely style.