Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Memoriam: Muriel Rukeyser

Born on this day in 1913, poet and social justice advocate Muriel Rukeyser's first appearance in print wasn't in 1935 when her poem Theory of Flight was chosen for inclusion in the Yale Younger Poets series by editor Stephen Vincent Benét; that was merely her first published poem.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketUnlike many callow young poets, who come to writing first then must experience the world in order to give themselves something else to write about besides themselves, Rukeyser was already well-acquainted with the world, first covering the Scottsboro case at the age of 18, then later working with International Labor Defense on their appeals.

In addition to poetry and journalism (her expose of the Hawk's Nest incident was proof that poetry could be more than just pretty words), Rukeyser also wrote plays and screenplays, a fictionalized memoir, and biographies - including one of Wendell Wilkie - all of which showcased the broad eclecticism of her interests.

An outspoken feminist and bisexual, she was a single mother to her son William in the 1950s, and there's even an FBI file on her; an apathetic Jew, her poem To be a Jew in the Twentieth Century (1944) was later adopted by and added to Reform and Reconstructionist prayer books.

Rukeyser died in February 1980.

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