Carolyn Kizer

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Carolyn Ashley Kizer (born December 10, 1925) is an American poet of the Pacific Northwest whose works reflect her feminism. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985.

According to an article at the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, "Kizer reaches into mythology in poems like “Semele Recycled”; into politics, into feminism, especially in her series of poems called “Pro Femina”; into science, the natural world, music, and translations and commentaries on Japanese and Chinese literatures".[1]


Kizer was born in Spokane, Washington, the daughter of a socially prominent Spokane couple,[2]

Her father, Benjamin Hamilton Kizer, was 45 when she was born. Her mother, Mabel Ashley Kizer, was a professor of biology who had received her doctorate from Stanford University.[3]

Kizer was once asked if she agreed with a description of her father as someone who "came across as supremely structured, intelligent, polite but always somewhat remote". Her reply: "Add 'authoritarian and severe', and you get a pretty good approximation of how he appeared to that stranger, his child". At times, she related, her father gave her the same "viscera-shriveling" voice she heard him use later on "members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and other villains of the 50’s, to even more devastating effect", and, she added, "I almost forgave him."[1]

After graduating from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, she went on to get her bachelor's degree from Sarah Lawrence College (where she studied comparative mythologies with Joseph Campbell) in 1945 and study as a graduate at both Columbia University (1945–46) and the University of Washington (1946–47).

She then moved back to Washington state, married Stimson Bullitt, from a wealthy and influential Seattle family, had three children and divorced. In 1954 she enrolled in a creative writing workshop run by poet Theodore Roethke. "Kizer had three small kids, a big house on North Capitol Hill, enough money to get by and more than enough talent and determination. And although one of her poems had been published in The New Yorker when she was 17, she remembers that she needed a nudge from Roethke to get serious."[4]

In 1959, she helped found Poetry Northwest and served as its editor until 1965.[4]

She was a "Specialist in Literature" for the U.S. State Department in Pakistan 1965–1966, during which she taught for several months in that country. In 1966 she became the first director of Literary Programs for the newly created National Endowment for the Arts. She resigned that post in 1970, when the N.E.A. chairman, Roger L. Stevens, was fired by President Richard Nixon. She was a consultant to the N.E.A. for the following year.[5]

In the 1970s and 1980s, she held appointments as poet-in-residence or lecturer at universities across the country including Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, San Jose State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been a visiting writer at literary conferences and events across the country, as well as in Dublin, Ireland, and Paris.[5] Kizer was also a member of the faculty of the Iowa Writer's Workshop.

She was appointed to the post of Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1995, but resigned three years later to protest the absence of women and minorities on the governing board.[citation needed]

Kizer is married to the architect-historian, John Marshall Woodbridge. When she is not teaching and lecturing, she divides her time between their home in Sonoma, California and their apartment in Paris.[5]


As author[edit]

  • Cool, Calm & Collected: Poems 1960-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)
  • Pro Femina: A Poem (BkMk Press, 2000)
  • Harping On: Poems 1985-1995 (Copper Canyon Press, 1996)
  • The Nearness of You(Copper Canyon Press, 1986)
  • Yin (1984) — Pulitzer Prize winner[6]
  • Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women (Copper Canyon Press, 1984)
  • Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems (1971)
  • Knock Upon Silence (1965)
  • The Ungrateful Garden (1961)
  • Picking and Choosing: Prose on Prose (1995),
  • Proses: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
  • Carrying Over: Translations from Chinese, Urdu, Macedonian, Hebrew and French-African (Copper Canyon Press, 1986)

As editor[edit]

  • 100 Great Poems by Women (1995)
  • The Essential Clare (1992)

About Kizer and her work[edit]

  • An Answering Music: On the Poetry of Carolyn Kizer," edited by David Rigsbee (Ford-Brown & Co. Publishers, 1990), criticism, photos, poetry, interview
  • Carolyn Kizer, Perspectives on her Life and Work (CavanKerry Press, 2001), a collection of critical prose, interviews, and poetry


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b [1]. Retrieved November 1, 2006.
  2. ^ Eastern Washington University Press Web site, Web page titled "Picking and Choosing: Essays on Prose by Carolyn Kiser"
  3. ^ [2] Notable Names Database Web site, Web page titled "Carolyn Kizer"
  4. ^ a b [3] Zahler, Richard, article from the Seattle Times, (no specific date) 1985, as reprinted at the University of Washington English Department Web site, Web page titled: "Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Readings: Carolyn Kizer Interview (1985)"
  5. ^ a b c [4] New York State Writers Institute of the State University of New York Web site, Web page titled "Carolyn Kizer: September 29, 1999 (Wednesday)". Retrieved November 1, 2006.
  6. ^ a b "Poetry". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-12.

External links[edit]

Poems online[edit]

  • [7] "A Muse of Water", "Amusing Our Daughters", "Fanny," "Lines to Accompany Flowers for Eve", "Pro Femina", "Summer near the River", "The Erotic Philosophers", "The Great Blue Heron", "The Intruder", "Through a Glass Eye, Lightly"
  • [8] "Fearful Woman' '
  • [9] "American Beauty"


  • [10] New York Times review of ' 'The Nearness of You' ' (March 22, 1987)