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Mary Oliver

The Womens Conference

How She Empowers Others

Mary Oliver’s poetry, with her lyrical connection to the natural world, has firmly established her in the highest realm of American poets.  She is renowned for her evocative and precise imagery, which brings nature into clear focus, transforming the everyday world into a place of magic and discovery. As poet Stanley Kunitz has said, “Mary Oliver’s poetry is fine and deep; it reads like a blessing. Her special gift is to connect us with our sources in the natural world, its beauties and terrors and mysteries and consolations.” She has received countless distinctions, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and continues to influence generations of younger poets, as well as adding to her legions of loyal readers with each eagerly awaited new book. 

Mary Oliver was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1935. She attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, then a women’s college. As a young writer, strongly influenced by the work of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, she wrote to the late poet’s sister and was invited to visit.  For the next several years Steepletop, the poet’s country house in upper state New York, became her second home.  Subsequently Mary Oliver moved to New York City, then visited England for one year. In 1964, she returned to the United States. Over the past two decades she has taught at various colleges and universities – Case Western Reserve, Bucknell, Sweet Briar College, the University of Cincinnati, and Bennington College in Vermont.

Mary Oliver is the author of many books of poetry, including No Voyage and other Poems (1965), The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972), Twelve Moons (1978),American Primitive (1983), Dream Work (1986), House of Light (1990), New and Selected Poems, Volume One (1992), White Pine (1994),West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems (1997),The Leaf and the Cloud (2000), What Do We Know (2002),Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays (2003),Why I Wake Early (2004), Blue Iris: Poems and Essays (2004), New and Selected Poems, Volume Two (2005), Thirst (2006), Red Bird (2008), The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (2008), and Evidence (2009). She is also the author of Our World, a collection of photos by Molly Malone Cook.  Her chapbooks and special editions include The Night Traveler (1978), Sleeping in the Forest (1979), Provincetown (1987), Wild Geese (UK Edition); and her prose books include A Poetry Handbook (1994),Blue Pastures (1995),Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998),Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999), and Long Life: Essays and Other Writings (2004).  She was the guest editor for The Best American Essays 2009 (November 2009). Her audio recordings include At Blackwater Pond  and Many Miles: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver (April 2010).  Ms. Oliver’s newest book of poetry is Swan (fall 2010).

Mary Oliver has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize (for American Primitive), the National Book Award for Poetry (for New and Selected Poems), the Lannan Foundation Literary Award, the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence, and the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, among others. She has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Mary Oliver lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

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Photo credit: Copyright 2005 Rachel Giese Brown