Sisterhood Blog

Motherhood, 'Otherhood' Inspired Adrienne Rich

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
MYRIAM DIAZ-DIOCARETZ
Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich has died, and a voice who provided invaluable insight to the discourse on motherhood, on feminism, on Jewish identity and on sexual politics, has been stilled.

Rich, who was 82, died Tuesday at her home in California. Described in her New York Times obituary, as “a poet of towering reputation and towering rage,” Rich was a prolific writer who authored 32 books of poetry and prose, and indefatigable political activist.

Born to a Gentile mother and a Jewish father, Rich grew to identify strongly as a Jew. When a student at Radcliffe, she married a man from an observant Jewish family, and together they had three sons. Though her early poetry had been praised by W.H. Auden, she stopped writing, for a time, when she married. It was domestic life that brought her back into writing, and into her evolving identities.

In her brilliant 1982 piece, “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity,” Rich wrote, “The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me; but before that I was encountering the institution of motherhood most directly in a Jewish cultural version; and I felt rebellious, moody, defensive, unable to sort out what was Jewish from what was simply motherhood, or female destiny.”

“Split at the Root” is a meditation on identities both suppressed and expressed. Rich wrote of her dawning Jewish consciousness, the awareness of being “other,” imposed on her by anti-Semitism that was both aggressive and internalized by her father, by characters she met in literature, by her crowd in college, and by random strangers she encountered.

Her awareness of being “other” also grew as she began to explore her identity as a lesbian, after she separated from her husband in 1970. Shortly after their separation he killed himself. In 1976 Rich began a relationship with writer Michelle Cliff, which lasted until her death this week.

Her political engagement spanned her artistic and Jewish identities. Rich was involved with the New Jewish Agenda, and she was a founding co-editor of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal when it began in 1990. Bridges ceased publication last year.

Rich was awarded many prizes and fellowships for her writing, including Guggenheims, a MacArthur and the National Book Award. She turned down the National Medal of Arts in 1997, to protest the House of Representatives’ decision to end the National Endowment for the Arts and the Clinton administration’s policies on the arts and literature.

For Rich, there was no separation between art and life, politics and art, or life and politics. She lived her beliefs.

Something she wrote in “Split at the Root” makes me think of the ever-more contained public comportment expected of Haredi women, though Rich was writing about the pressure in her family to act “more Gentile”:

“We — my mother, sister and I — were constantly urged to speak quietly in public, to dress without ostentation, to repress all vividness or spontaneity, to assimilate with a world that might see us as too flamboyant.”

The world is a poorer place for no longer having Rich’s voice in it. But I am grateful for what she left us.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Split at the Root, Poetry, Motherhood, Adrienne Rich

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.