She had a writing career that lasted more than six decades, and for most of those decades, Rich was one of the most influential feminist writers and one of the best-known American intellectuals. She wrote 30 books of poetry and prose, selling more than a million copies.
As a lesbian and a Jew, Rich was concerned in her writing with identity politics long before the term was widely used. Her collections of poetry and essays explored the themes of Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, racism, and politics.
In 1953, Rich married a Harvard professor, with whom she had three sons. In the 1960s. her work grew increasingly radical, and poems began to reflect a critical view of the traditional roles of women.
After moving to New York City in 1966, Rich became involved in the feminist and anti-war movements. She eventually separated from her husband, who committed suicide a few months later.
In 1976, Rich started a relationship with Jamaican writer, Michelle Cliff. It was a love that would last her lifetime. She began to write about her personal experiences as a lesbian and about female sexuality. She publicly came out in her collection of verse, Twenty-One Love Poems (1976).
Rich was unafraid to mix politics and art. She used the attention that her poems brought her for political purposes.
In 1974, Rich was awarded the National Book Award, but refused to accept the honor as an individual. Instead, she shared the award with the two other female nominees, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, in a gesture of female solidarity.
In 1997, Rich declined a National Medal of Arts in protest of House Speaker Newt Gingrich‘s push to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, writing:
“Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”
Rich was taken at 82 years old of complications arising from rheumatoid arthritis at the home she shared with Cliff in Santa Cruz. She would have been celebrating her 94th birthday today, maybe with some feminist bourbon banana cake. All of Rich’s books are still in print today.
“Pride is a tricky, glorious, double-edged feeling.”