Renée Ashley is an American poet, and author of five collections of poetry, two chapbooks and a novel. Presently on the faculty of Fairleigh Dickinson University and poetry editor of The Literary Review, Ashley's work has garnered several honours including the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, Pushcart Prize, and fellowships granted by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment of the Arts.
Several of her poems have been published in noted literary journals and magazines, including Poetry, American Voice, Bellevue Literary Review, Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, and The Literary Review
Ashley was born in Palo Alto, California and raised nearby in Redwood City. Her father worked infrequently in a ball bearing factory and her mother was a PBX telephone operator and secretary; she was their only child. In interviews, she describes her parents as being an "anti influence" on her literary pursuits—mentioning that she was raised in a house that had no books and that her mother believed that "if you’re reading you’re not doing anything."
Ashley attended San Francisco State University and was graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in three majors (in French, English, and Comparative Literature) in 1979. Subsequently, she earned a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Comparative Literature from San Francisco State University in 1981. Ashley came to poetry later in life and by chance. While attending a fiction writing seminar at a writer's conference at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, she was inspired to start writing poetry after "wandering away" and encountering a poetry reading by John Logan (1923–1987).
Ashley presently resides in Ringwood, New Jersey and is on the faculty of Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching in the university's graduate degree programmes for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing (2001–present) and Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators (2010–present). Since 1994, she has been on the faculty of the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, a large writers conference recently hosted by the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and Murphy Writing Seminars.
She previously taught creative writing at Ramapo College (1989–1993) in Mahwah, New Jersey and at Rockland Center for the Arts (1985–1995) in West Nyack, New York. For five years (1997–2002), she was assistant poetry coordinator for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a not-for-profit philanthropic organisation that gives grants to environmental and social projects, educators and artists and operates a biennial four-day poetry festival in New Jersey that is the largest poetry event in North America. For several years, from 2007 until 2014, she was poetry editor of Fairleigh Dickinson University's literary quarterly The Literary Review.
Publisher's Weekly reviewed Ashley's seventh book of poetry, Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (2013), a series of prose poems on the subjects of "sex, courtship, fear, fatigue, loyalty, companion animals, and human regret" as "squared-off, almost blindingly vivid" and "committed to individual feeling, lyric, texture, emotional rawness, and authenticity."
Poetry in Penn Station
A six-line excerpt from Ashley's poem "First Book of the Moon" in The Revisionist's Dream (2001) were selected to used for a permanent installation by artist Larry Kirkland in New York City's Pennsylvania Station.
"...We dream our lives
But the rivers breathe flint and spark
And each night we believe in everything—
The shifting edge of light
And dark, the possibility of what we think we are
And what we think we see."
Carved in marble, this installation features excerpts from the works of several New Jersey poets (including Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Amiri Baraka) and was part of the renovation and reconstruction of the New Jersey Transit section of the station completed in 2002.
Ashley has released five collections of poetry and two chapbooks.
- 1992: Salt
- 1998: The Various Reason of Light
- 2001: The Revisionist's Dream
- 2006: The Museum of Lost Wings (chapbook)
- 2009: Basic Heart
- 2010: The Verbs of Desiring (chapbook)
- 2013: Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea (Subito Press) ISBN 978-0-9831150-8-3
- 2003: Someplace Like This (Permanent Press) ISBN 978-1-57962-090-5
Honors and awards
In recognition of her achievements in poetry and writing, Renée Ashley has earned the following awards and fellowships:
Awards and competitions
- Poets & Writers - Directory of Writers: Renee Ashley. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Nagy, Kim. "A Voice Answering a Voice — A Conversation with Renée Ashley" in Wild River Review WRR 4.4 (1 August 2007). Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Renee Ashley at work: Bio. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Poets & Writers MFA Programs Fairleigh Dickinson University. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fairleigh Dickinson University: Creative Writing MFA Faculty and Creative Writing for Educators: Faculty Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway. Poetry Faculty. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival: A Brief Historical Overview. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
- The Literary Review - Masthead. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Staff. Because I Am the Shore I Want to Be the Sea reviewed by Publisher's Weekly (28 October 2013). Retrieved 30 October 2013.
- New Jersey Transit. "Commissioner Fox Unveils New 7th Avenue Concourse at Penn Station N.Y.: Built For Today’s Crowds and Tomorrow’s Capacity Needs" (news release) (18 September 2002). Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- Ashley, Renée. "III. Variant Moon: Eclipse (Moon as Abstraction)" from "First Book of the Moon" in The Revisionists Dream (Pearl River, New York: Avocet Press, 2001), 28. Note: The Penn Station rendering is in a slightly different line format from the original.
- Renee Ashley at work: Biography. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
- reneeashleyatwork.com (personal website)