Prolific thinker and poet Adrienne Rich passed away yesterday at the age of 82.
The out lesbian writer has penned so many lines we’ve loved and lived by since she began publishing 60 years ago. Her many contributions to literature have won her accolades and awards from The National Book Award for Poetry to Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award, as well as honorary degrees and fellowships from the likes of Yale and Rutgers University. A staunch feminist, Adrienne famously refused to go on stage alone to accept the National Book Award in 1973. Instead, she brought Alice Walker and Audre Lorde with her.
An essayist as well as poet, Adrienne published seven books of essays in addition to the 20 collections of poetry she in her too-short time with us. One highly important piece was the 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in which she surmised that the patriarchal society we live in wants to keep women heterosexual because they want to control them; to keep them as mothers, in the home, without any sense of self or sexual awareness.
Her work was so important to the women, to mothers, to lesbians, to world consciousness that our community will not be alone in mourning this loss. Adrienne leaves behind her partner of many years, Michelle Cliff, who is also a writer and will surely (hopefully, when she is ready) dedicate some time to writing about their relationship and the time she spent with Adrienne.
Adrienne has a poem in the spring issue of The Paris Review, and the publication interviewed her just a year ago when she published her last book, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve. They asked about the line in her poem “Powers of Recuperation” that reads “All new learning looks at first like chaos,” wondering if it meant she was hopeful about the future. Adrienne said:
Adrienne was a leader and a voice of many generations, throughout the civil rights and women’s movements to the Vietnam war, through her last moments. She never stopped thinking and so she never stopped writing. We were blessed to have her thoughts and her words, which will live on forever.
I first read Adrienne’s work in my gender and women’s studies courses in college, which is likely where a lot of other women first encountered her if they weren’t lucky enough to find her on their own. This quote from her will always stand out to me:
Please share with us any memories you have of Adrienne or how her work has touched you, perhaps even a favorite quote or line.