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Rich, Adriennelocked

(16 May 1929–27 March 2012)
  • Carla Kaplan

Extract

Rich, Adrienne (16 May 1929–27 March 2012), poet, essayist, and lesbian-feminist activist, was born Adrienne Cecile Rich in Baltimore, Maryland, to Arnold Rice Rich and Helen Elizabeth Jones Rich, both southerners. Her father, a pathologist and highly regarded professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School, was renowned for his work ethic and brilliant lectures, but feared for his critical, exacting standards. Her mother was a gifted pianist, piano teacher, and composer. She married late because she pursues her musical career, but then gave it up, as housewives were expected to do, to care for her family. Until she was four Adrienne had an African American nanny, as was also common in her milieu. She and her younger sister, Cynthia, were home schooled until Adrienne was nine, which was less common, but fostered both an extraordinary ability for independent work and a need for community which became a central theme of Rich’s later writing. At home both girls read widely, especially in the classics. Their father particularly valued formal, traditional poetry which she began writing as a very young child, largely to satisfy him. In a household not given to playfulness, she indulged her zeal for storytelling privately. Rich’s parents urged their daughters to work hard, aim high, and see themselves as special. That message had to be squared, however, with the model of their mother’s sacrifice to their father’s success. Adrienne tried hard to please, but she was also quick-tempered, and even when young, stubbornly insistent on her own strong sense of right and wrong....

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