d. February 12,1980
Never to despise in myself what I have been taught to despise. Nor to despise the other.Not to despise the it. To make this relation with the it: to know that I am it.
Muriel Rukeyser's poetry, which breaks the silence of many aspects of female experience, has been enormously important to many feminist and lesbian readers.
Born and brought up in an upper middle-class Jewish family in New York, where she lived for most of her life. Rukeyser was educated at the Ethical Culture School in New York City, at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY). From 1930-1932, she attended Columbia University in New York.
Rukeyser's first book of poems, Theory of Flight, was chosen by Stephen Vincent Benét for publication in the Yale Younger Poets Series in 1935, and this book began a literary career spaning the rest of Rukeyser's life and much of the rest of the twentieth century.
In 1945 she was briefly married, and in 1947 she had a son from another man. Rukeyser was always silent about her own sexual orientation though in later years she seemed to accept more publicly lesbian identity.
Her poems are marked by elliptical, metaphysical style and intense feeling concerned with the solution of individual problems through social justice. Politics informed Rukeyser's life and work.
It was, in fact, Rukeyser's feminism and her vocal opposition to the War in Viet Nam that drew the attention of a new generation to her poetry in the 1960s. She served as President of PEN's American Center to fight for the human rights of writers around the world.
The centrality of political work, and the connection between that work and Rukeyser's literary career, is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that a thwarted attempt to visit Korean poet Kim Chi Ha on death row in South Korea forms the basis for her last book's title poem, The Gates.
Theory of Flight (1935)
U.S. 1 (1938)
A Turning Wind (1939)
The Soul and Body of John brown (1940)
Wake Island (1942)
Willard Gibbs: American Genius (1942, prose study)
Beast in View (1944)
The Green Vawe (1948)
The Life of Poetry (1947)
One Life (1957)
Body of Waking (1958)
Waterlily Fire (1962)
The Orgy (1965)
The Speed of Darkness (1968)
Breaking Open (1973)
The Gates (1976)
Collected Poems (1979)