Adrienne Rich, one of America’s most well-known public intellectuals, died today at age 82 from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, the New York Times reported. Winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994 and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974, Rich wrote poetry and essays about the oppression of women, war, racism, economic justice and love between women, Today reported.
Nearly 800,000 copies of her two dozen volumes of poetry have been sold to date, according to her publisher W. W. Norton & Company, the New York Times reported.
According to the New York Times:
She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women’s disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.
Her work was introduced to generations of students through the women’s studies courses universities started offering in the 1970s, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In 1997, Rich refused to accept the United States’ highest award for artists, the National Medal for the Arts, according to the LA Times.
“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she explained in a letter addressed to then-President Clinton, the LA Times reported. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
She considered herself as a “passionate skeptic,” Today reported. “I became an American skeptic, not as to the long search for justice and dignity, which is part of all human history, but in the light of my nation’s leading role in demoralizing and destabilizing that search, here at home and around the world,” she wrote in the Monthly Review in June 2001, according to Today. “Perhaps just such a passionate skepticism, neither cynical nor nihilistic, is the ground for continuing.”
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