Alicia Ostriker: Poet and Critic

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to congratulate poet and critic Alicia Ostriker on being named the eleventh New York State Poet, succeeding poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Ostriker’s papers have been in the Manuscripts Division since 2002. In announcing her appointment, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York noted that Ostriker is being recognized for her collective body of work and the impact it has had on the people of New York and beyond. Previous poets who have served in the position include Marie Howe, Jean Valentine, Billy Collins, John Ashbery, Sharon Olds, Jane Cooper, Richard Howard, Audre Lorde, Robert Creeley, and Stanley Kunitz (whose papers are also in the Manuscripts Division). She was born in New York City in 1937 and came to prominence as both a poet and a critic in 1986, when she published her prize-winning volume The Imaginary Lover, a collection of poems, and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America, in which she makes a controversial argument concerning the women’s poetry movement in the postwar and post-1960s America. She is a professor emerita at Rutgers University, Department of English, and was a long-time resident of Princeton, with her husband, Professor Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Department of Astrophysics. Alicia Ostriker is currently teaching in the Program in Creative Writing, Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton.

The Alicia Ostriker Papers (C0910) contain more than 20 linear feet of paper and electronic files donated by the poet, documenting her life and work as a poet and critic. The papers include manuscript drafts and proofs for dozens of volumes of poems, nonfiction books, critical commentary, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, and other writings, as well as some unpublished writings, song lyrics, student writings, and drawings. Ostriker’s extensive personal and professional correspondence includes letters exchanged with friends and fellow scholars and poets, along with reader mail and family correspondence. Her correspondents include many of the best-known American poets of the post-World War II period, such as Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly, Toi Derricotte, Stephen Dunn, Donald Hall, Maxine Kumin, Sharon Olds, Robert Pinsky, and May Swenson. The most recent gift of papers includes Ostriker’s correspondence (1995-2002) with Peter Pitzele, creator of Bibliodrama, for the interpretation of the Bible through performance.

Ostriker’s poetry and criticism investigates themes of family, social justice, Jewish identity, and personal growth. “People who do not know my work ask me what I write about,” the poet notes. “I answer: love, sex, death, violence, family, politics, religion, friendship, painters and painting, the body in sickness and health. Joy and pain. I try not to write the same poem over and over.” Joyce Carol Oates, Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor of the Humanities. has observed about Ostriker’s place in American letters, “Alicia Ostriker has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves.” Ostriker’s work and influence has been studied in a recent collection of essays: Martha Nell Smith and Julie P. Enszer, eds., Everywoman Her Own Theology: On the Poetry of Alicia Suskind Ostriker (University of Michigan Press, 2018). For more information about the papers, consult the finding aid or contact Public Services, at rbsc@princeton.edu

Alicia Ostriker. Photo by Jeremiah P. Ostriker

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