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Muriel Rukeyser

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Language  English
Role  Poet
Name  Muriel Rukeyser

Genre  Poetry
Citizenship  American
Movies  A Place to Live
Muriel Rukeyser Muriel Rukeyser and the Spanish Civil War Insights
Born  December 15, 1913 (1913-12-15)
Died  February 12, 1980, New York City, New York, United States
Education  Columbia University (1930–1932), Vassar College, Ethical Culture Fieldston School
Books  Life of Poetry, The Savage Coast, Collected Poems of Muriel Ru, The orgy, Out of silence
Similar People  Adrienne Rich, Jan Heller Levi, Kate Daniels, David Spangler, Irving Lerner

poem by muriel rukeyser a film adaptation

Muriel Rukeyser (December 15, 1913 – February 12, 1980) was an American poet and political activist, best known for her poems about equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism. Kenneth Rexroth said that she was the greatest poet of her "exact generation".


Muriel Rukeyser wwwpoetryfoundationorguploadsauthorsmurielru

One of her most powerful pieces was a group of poems entitled The Book of the Dead (1938), documenting the details of the Hawk's Nest incident, an industrial disaster in which hundreds of miners died of silicosis.

Muriel Rukeyser Why Do We Fear Poetry Two Poets Answer Muriel Rukeyser

Her poem "To be a Jew in the Twentieth Century" (1944), on the theme of Judaism as a gift, was adopted by the American Reform and Reconstructionist movements for their prayer books, something Rukeyser said "astonished" her, as she had remained distant from Judaism throughout her early life.

Muriel Rukeyser Muriel Rukeyser reads quotThe Poem as Maskquot YouTube

Muriel rukeyser reads the poem as mask

Early life

Muriel Rukeyser httpswwwpoetsorgsitesdefaultfilesstyles2

Muriel Rukeyser was born on December 15, 1913 to Lawrence and Myra Lyons Rukeyser. She attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a private school in The Bronx, then Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. From 1930 to 32, she attended Columbia University.

Her literary career began in 1935 when her book of poetry, Theory of Flight, based on flying lessons she took, was chosen by the American poet Stephen Vincent Benét for publication in the Yale Younger Poets Series.

Activism and writing

Rukeyser was one of the great integrators, seeing the fragmentary world of modernity not as irretrievably broken, but in need of societal and emotional repair.

Rukeyser was active in progressive politics throughout her life. At age 21, she covered the Scottsboro case in Alabama, then worked for the International Labor Defense, which handled the defendants' appeals. She wrote for the Daily Worker and a variety of publications including Decision (payne), Life & Letters Today (London) for which she covered the People's Olympiad (Olimpiada Popular, Barcelona), the Catalan government's alternative to the Nazis' 1936 Berlin Olympics. While she was in Spain, the Spanish Civil War broke out, the basis of her Mediterranean. Most famously, she traveled to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, to investigate the recurring silicosis among miners there, which resulted in her well-regarded poem sequence The Book of the Dead. During and after World War II, she gave a number of striking public lectures, published in her The Life of Poetry (excerpts here). For much of her life, she taught university classes and led workshops, but she never became a career academic.

In 1996, Paris Press reissued The Life of Poetry, which had been published in 1949 but had fallen out of print. In a publisher's note, Jan Freeman called it a book that "ranks among the most essential works of twentieth century literature." In it she makes the case that poetry is essential to democracy, essential to human life and understanding.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a time when she presided over PEN's American center, her feminism and opposition to the Vietnam War (she traveled to Hanoi) drew a new generation to her poetry. The title poem of her last book, The Gates, is based on her unsuccessful attempt to visit Korean poet Kim Chi-Ha on death row in South Korea. In 1968, she signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.

In addition to her poetry, she wrote a fictionalized memoir, The Orgy, plays and screenplays, and translated work by Octavio Paz and Gunnar Ekelöf. She also wrote biographies of Josiah Willard Gibbs, Wendell Willkie, and Thomas Hariot. Andrea Dworkin worked as her secretary in the early 1970s. Also in the 1970s she served on the Advisory Board of the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective, a New York City based theatre group that wrote and produced plays on feminist issues.

Rukeyser died in New York on February 12, 1980 from a stroke, with diabetes as a contributing factor. She was 66.

In other media

In the television show, Supernatural, Metatron the angel quotes an excerpt of the poem, "Speed of Darkness," from Rukeyser. "The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms."

In Jeanette Winterson's novel Gut Symmetries (1997), Rukeyser's poem "King's Mountain" is quoted.

Rukeyser's translation of a poem by Octavio Paz was adapted by Eric Whitacre for his choral composition "Water Night". John Adams set one of her texts to music in his opera Doctor Atomic, and Libby Larsen set the poem "Looking at Each Other" to music in her choral work Love Songs.

Writer Marian Evans and composer Chris White are currently collaborating on a play about Rukeyser, Throat of These Hours, titled after a line in Rukeyser's Speed of Darkness.

The Journal of Narrative Theory dedicated a special issue to Rukeyser in Fall 2013.

Rukeyser's 5-poem sequence "Kathe Kollwitz" (The Speed of Darkness, 1968, Random House) ( ) was set to music by Tom Myron for the composition, "Kathe Kollwitz for Soprano and String Quartet", "written in response to a commission from violist Julia Adams for a work celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Portland String Quartet in 1998." (

Rukeyser's poem "Gunday's Child" was set to music by the experimental rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.


  • Yale Younger Poets Award (1935) with Theory of Flight
  • Harriet Monroe Poetry Award (the first)
  • Levinson Prize
  • Copernicus Prize
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • Works

    Rukeyser's original collections of poetry
  • Theory of Flight. Foreword by Stephen Vincent Benet. New Haven: Yale Uni. Press, 1935. Won the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1935.
  • Mediterranean. Writers and Artists Committee, Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy, 1938.
  • U.S. 1: Poems. Covici, Friede, 1938.
  • A Turning Wind: Poems. Viking, 1939.
  • The Soul and Body of John Brown. Privately printed, 1940.
  • Wake Island. Doubleday, 1942.
  • Beast in View. Doubleday, 1944.
  • The Green Wave: Poems. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1948. Includes translations of Octavio Paz poems and rari.
  • Orpheus. Centaur Press, 1949. With the drawing "Orpheus" by Picasso.
  • Elegies. New Directions, 1949.
  • Selected Poems. New Directions, 1951.
  • Body of Waking: Poems. NY: Harper, 1958. Includes translated poems of Octavio Paz.
  • Waterlily Fire: Poems 1935-1962. NY: Macmillan, 1962.
  • The Outer Banks. Santa Barbara CA: Unicorn, 1967. 2nd rev. ed., 1980.
  • The Speed of Darkness: Poems. NY: Random House, 1968.
  • 29 Poems. Rapp & Whiting, 1972.
  • Breaking Open: New Poems. Random House, 1973.
  • The Gates: Poems. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  • Fiction by Rukeyser
  • Savage Coast : A Novel. Feminist Press, 2014.
  • Plays by Rukeyser
  • The Middle of the Air. Produced in Iowa City, IA, 1945.
  • The Colors of the Day: A Celebration of the Vassar Centennial. Produced in Poughkeepsie, NY, at Vassar College, June 10, 1961.
  • Houdini. Produced in Lenox, MA, at Lenox Arts Center, July 3, 1973. Published as Houdini: A Musical, Paris Press, 2002.
  • Children's books
  • Come Back, Paul. Harper, 1955.
  • I Go Out. Harper, 1961. Illustrated by Leonard Kessler.
  • Bubbles. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967.
  • Mazes. Simon & Schuster, 1970. Photography by Milton Charles.
  • More Night. Harper & Row, 1981. Illustrated by Symeon Shimin.
  • Memoir by Rukeyser
  • The Orgy: An Irish Journey of Passion and Transformation. London: Andre Deutsch, 1965; NY: Pocket Books, 1966; Ashfield, MA: Paris Press, 1997. ISBN 0-9638183-2-5
  • Works of criticism by Rukeyser
  • The Life of Poetry. NY: Current Books, 1949; Morrow, 1974; Paris Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9638183-3-3
  • Biographies by Rukeyser
  • Willard Gibbs: American Genius, 1942. Reprinted by the Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge CT. Biography of Josiah Willard Gibbs, physicist.
  • One Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1957. Biography of Wendell Willkie.
  • The Traces of Thomas Hariot. NY: Random House, 1971. Biography of Thomas Hariot.
  • Translations by Rukeyser
  • Selected Poems of Octavio Paz. Indiana University Press, 1963. Rev. ed. published as Early Poems 1935-1955, New Directions, 1973.
  • Sun Stone. Octavio Paz. New Directions, 1963.
  • Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf. With Leif Sjöberg. Twayne, 1967.
  • Three Poems. Gunnar Ekelöf. T. Williams, 1967.
  • Uncle Eddie's Moustache. Bertolt Brecht. 1974.
  • A Molna Elegy: Metamorphoses. Gunnar Ekelöf. With Leif Sjöberg. 2 volumes. Unicorn Press, 1984.
  • Edited collections of Rukeyser's works
  • The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser. McGraw, 1978.
  • Out of Silence: Selected Poems. Edited by Kate Daniels. Triquarterly Books, 1992.
  • A Muriel Rukeyser Reader. Norton, 1994.
  • The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.
  • References

    Muriel Rukeyser Wikipedia