Mary Mackey is an American novelist, poet, and academic. She is the author of seven collections of poetry and thirteen novels, including the New York Times best-seller A Grand Passion and The Year The Horses Came, The Horses At The Gate, and The Fires of Spring, three sweeping historical novels that take as their subject the earth-centered, Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe. In 2012, her sixth collection of poetry, Sugar Zone, won a PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. Her first novel, Immersion (Shameless Hussy Press, 1972), was the first novel published by a Second Wave feminist press. Long concerned with environmental issues, Mackey frequently writes about the rainforests of Costa Rica and the Brazilian Amazon. In the early 1970s, as Professor of English and Writer-In-Residence at California State University, Sacramento, she was instrumental in the founding of the CSUS Women’s Studies Program and the CSUS English Department Graduate Creative Writing Program. From 1989-1992, she served as President of the West Coast Branch of PEN American Center involving herself in PEN’s international defense of persecuted writers.
Mackey was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her father was a physician. Her mother worked as a chemist in the Mead Johnson laboratories during World War II. While attending Harvard College, Mackey, an English major, came under the influence of the father of modern ethnobotany, Richard Evans Schultes to whom she attributes a lifelong interest in botany and ecology, themes which often appear in her novels and poetry. During her twenties, she lived in field stations in the then-remote jungles of Costa Rica. After receiving her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan, she moved to California to become Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). She is married to Angus Wright, CSUS Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies, with whom she frequently travels to Brazil.
Mackey was one of the founders of the CSUS Women’s Studies Program. She also founded the CSUS English Department Graduate Creative Writing Program along with poet Dennis Schmitz and novelist Richard Bankowsky. In 1978 Mackey founded the Feminist Writers Guild with poets Adrienne Rich and Susan Griffin and novelist Valerie Miner. From 1989-1992, Mackey served as President of the West Coast Branch of PEN American Center involving herself in PEN’s international defense of persecuted writers. Mackey retired from California State University in 2008. As of 2011, she continues to write novels and poetry.
Mackey is the author of thirteen novels and seven collections of poetry. She is noted for her historical fiction, particularly for The Year The Horses Came, The Horses At The Gate, and The Fires of Spring, a trilogy set in Neolithic Europe which Mackey based on the research of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. She is also noted for her lyric poetry which has been praised by Wendell Berry, Jane Hirshfield, Dennis Nurkse, Ron Hansen, Dennis Schmitz, and Marge Piercy for its beauty, precision, originality, and extraordinary range.
Her first novel, Immersion (Shameless Hussy Press, 1972) is set in the rain forests of Costa Rica. It takes as its subjects ecology and feminism, and is believed to be the first feminist novel published by a Second Wave American feminist press. McCarthy’s List is a comic novel set in Indianapolis in the 1950s. The Last Warrior Queen retells the myth of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. A Grand Passion and The Kindness of Strangers are set in Europe and take as their subject three generations of women involved in the arts. Three of Mackey’s novels (The Year The Horses Came, The Horses At The Gate, and The Fires of Spring) comprise her Earthsong Trilogy. Set in Europe in the Neolithic Period, they deal with struggles between matristic earth-centered goddess-worshipping cultures and invading patriarchal nomads. Mackey’s Season of Shadows is set at Harvard in the late 60’s and deals with various political issues such as the Civil Rights Movement and protests against the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. In 2003 and 2004, in a departure from her previous styles and themes, Mackey chose to write The Stand-In and Sweet Revenge under the pen name “Kate Clemens.” Both are comic novels set in Los Angeles. Most recently she has written two Civil War novels, The Notorious Mrs. Winston and The Widow’s War, set in Indiana and Kansas respectively.
Mackey’s poetry is hard to classify. Critics have called it “fierce,” “surreal,” and “ecstatic,” “passionately transcendent,” and “corrosive,” and noted her “hallucinatory troping” which is “continually deconstructing rational consciousness.” In speaking of Mackey’s collection Breaking The Fever, poet Jane Hirshfield noted: “The poetry in Breaking the Fever offers truths both personal & political, visions both actual and imaginatively broad …, set down with a sensuous, compassionate, and utterly unflinching eye.” On several occasions, Garrison Keillor has read Mackey’s poems on his daily on-line, radio, and podcast The Writer’s Almanac. In 2011, Marsh Hawk Press published Mackey’s sixth collection of poetry, Sugar Zone which won the 2012 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. Mackey has said that the poems in Sugar Zone are inspired by the works of Brazilian novelists and poets, and that they “combine Portuguese and English as incantation to evoke the lyrical space that lies at the conjunction between the two languages.” In 2014 Marsh Hawk published a new collection of Mackey's poetry Travelers With No Ticket Home.
- Immersion, San Lorenzo, CA: Shameless Hussy Press (1972)
- McCarthy’s List, New York, NY: Doubleday (1979)
- The Last Warrior Queen, New York, NY: Putnam (1983)
- A Grand Passion, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (1988)
- The Kindness of Strangers, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (1988)
- Season of Shadows, New York, NY: Bantam Books (1991)
- The Year The Horses Came, San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco (1993)
- The Horses At The Gate, San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco (1996)
- The Fires of Spring, New York, NY: Penguin (1998)
- The Stand-In (under the pen name “Kate Clemens”), New York, NY: Kensington Books (2003)
- Sweet Revenge (under the pen name “Kate Clemens”), New York, NY: Kensington Books (2004)
- The Notorious Mrs. Winston, New York, NY: Berkley Books (2007)
- The Widow’s War, New York, NY: Berkley Books (2009)
- Split Ends, Berkeley, CA: Ariel Press (1974)
- One Night Stand, Emeryville, CA: Effie’s Press (1976)
- Skin Deep, Washington, DC: Gallimaufry Press (1978)
- The Dear Dance of Eros, Seattle WA: Fjord Press (1987)
- Breaking The Fever, New York, NY: Marsh Hawk Press (2006)
- Sugar Zone, New York, NY: Marsh Hawk Press (2011)
- Travelers With No Ticket Home, New York, NY: Marsh Hawk Press (2014)
- Silence (original screenplay). Film directed by John Korty (1974)
- McCarthy’s List (screenplay, adaptation of Mackey’s novel). Warner Brothers (1980)
- Good Behavior (original screenplay co-authored with Ray Fox), (1982)
- The Spy (original screenplay, short subject, co-authored with Renée de Palma). Film directed by de Palma (2000)
- The Time Piece (original screenplay, short subject, co-authored with Renée de Palma). Film in production (2011)
Awards and honors
- PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for Sugar Zone, 2012
- Nominated for Northern California Book Award for Poetry for Sugar Zone, 2012
- Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 27, ed. Shelly Andrews. Detroit/New York/Toronto/London: Gale Research (1997), pp 199-220.
- Interview with Mary Mackey, The WELL, Inkwell.vue https://user.well.com/engaged.cgi?a=r&c=inkwell.vue&t=287; See also Mackey’s novels Immersion, The Last Warrior Queen, and The Widow’s War; and her poetry collections Breaking The Fever and Sugar Zone.
- Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol 27
- Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol 27
- Omnidawn Publishing Blog Posted 11/15/2009 http://omnidawn.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/poetry-feature-mary-mackey/
- Feminists Who Changed America, ed. Barbara J. Love. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press (2006), p. 291.
- Feminists Who Changed America
- Feminists Who Changed America
- Omnidawn Publishing Blog, Posted 11/15/2009 http://omnidawn.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/poetry-feature-mary-mackey/ Andy Ross Interviews Mary Mackey, Red Room. http://www.redroom.com/blog/andyross/mary-mackey-writing-historical-fiction
- http://omnidawn.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/poetry-feature-mary-mackey/, http://www.marshhawkpress.org/Mackey.htm. Also see: Poetry Now, M. Zeppa (Sacramento, CA; November 2006); “Dreams of the Baby Boomers,” by Susan Kelly-Dewitt, Poetry Flash, Fall 2007/Winter 2008 (Berkeley, CA) pp 25-26; and “Hallucinations,” by Carl Frith, Small Press Review March–April 2007, Vol 39, Nos. 3-4, Issues 410-411 (Paradise, CA; 2007) Note that Frith’s review erroneously gave the title of Mackey’s collection Breaking The Fever as Breaking The Fire. Small Press Review published a correction notice in its next issue.
- Shameless Hussy Press (San Lorenzo, CA) is credited with being the first Feminist Press in The United States (http://library.evergreen.edu/rarebooks/shamelesshussy.html ) Alta, editor of Shameless Hussy Press, also published some of the first work of Susan Griffin and Ntozake Shange. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alta_(poet)
- The Widow’s War, The San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller List, week of September 22, 2009.
- Small Press Review, Carol Frith (Paradise, CA; Spring 2007)
- Official website
- Garrison Keillor reading Mackey’s poetry: