Carolyn Kizer

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Carolyn Kizer
BornCarolyn Ashley Kizer
(1925-12-10)December 10, 1925
Spokane, Washington, U.S.
DiedOctober 9, 2014(2014-10-09) (aged 88)
Sonoma, California, U.S.
LanguageEnglish, Chinese, Urdu
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize
SpouseCharles Stimson Bullitt (1946–1954, divorced)
John Marshall Woodbridge
Children3 (including Jill Bullitt)

Carolyn Ashley Kizer (December 10, 1925 – October 9, 2014) was 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 reach[ed] 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 (1878–1978),[3] who was 45 when she was born, was a successful attorney. Her mother, Mabel Ashley Kizer, was a professor of biology who had received her doctorate from Stanford University.

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 1950s, 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).[4]

She then moved back to Washington state, and in 1946 married Charles Stimson Bullitt, an attorney from a wealthy and influential Seattle family, with whom she had three children; Fred Nemo, Jill Bullitt, and Ashley Bullitt.[5] Her husband was the son of Dorothy Bullitt, who founded the Bullitt Foundation and the King Broadcasting Company. 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."[6] Her marriage to Bullitt ended in divorce in 1954.[7] In 1959, she helped found Poetry Northwest and served as its editor until 1965.[6]

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.[8]

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.[8] 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.[9]

Kizer was married to the architect-historian, John Marshall Woodbridge. When she was not teaching and lecturing, she divided her time between their home in Sonoma, California, and their apartment in Paris.[8]

She died on October 9, 2014, in Sonoma, California, due to effects of dementia.[10]


As author[edit]

  • Cool, Calm, and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. Copper Canyon Press. 2001. ISBN 978-1-55659-181-5.
  • Pro Femina: A Poem BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2000, ISBN 9781886157309
  • Harping On: Poems 1985-1995, Copper Canyon Press, 1996, ISBN 9781556591150
  • The Nearness of You, Copper Canyon Press, 1986, ISBN 9780914742968
  • Yin, BOA Editions, 1984, ISBN 9780918526441 — Pulitzer Prize winner[11]
  • Mermaids in the basement: poems for women, Copper Canyon Press, 1984, ISBN 9780914742807
  • Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems, Doubleday, 1971
  • Knock Upon Silence, Doubleday, 1965
  • The Ungrateful Garden, 1961; Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1999, ISBN 9780887482762
  • Picking and Choosing: Prose on Prose, Eastern Washington University Press, 1995, ISBN 9780910055253
  • Proses: Essays on Poets and Poetry, Copper Canyon Press, 1993, ISBN 9781556590450
  • Carrying Over: Translations from Chinese, Urdu, Macedonian, Hebrew and French-African (Copper Canyon Press, 1986)

As editor[edit]

  • 100 Great Poems by Women HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 9780880015813
  • The Essential Clare (1992)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Retrieved November 1, 2006. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)[title missing]
  2. ^ Eastern Washington University Press Web site, Web page titled "Picking and Choosing: Essays on Prose by Carolyn Kiser"
  3. ^ "Kizer, Benjamin H. (Benjamin Hamilton), 1878-1978". Social Networks and Archival Context (
  4. ^ "Carolyn Kizer 1925–2014". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Carolyn Kizer Obituary | Carolyn Kizer Funeral |". 14 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Roethke Readers -- Carolyn Kizer interview". Archived from the original on 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2006-11-02. 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)"
  7. ^ "Carolyn Kizer dies at 89; Pulitzer winner's poems reflected her feminism". Los Angeles Times. 13 October 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "New York State Writers Institute - Carolyn Kizer". Archived from the original on 2006-09-15. Retrieved 2006-11-02. 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.
  9. ^ "Obituary of Carolyn Kizer".
  10. ^ Fox, Margalit (October 10, 2014). "Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer-Winning Poet, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  11. ^ a b "Poetry". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-12.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Poems online[edit]

External videos
video icon Carolyn Kizer reading "The Erotic Philosophers", PodPoets—8: October 28, 2007
  • [3] "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"
  • [4] "Fearful Woman' '
  • [5] "American Beauty"


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