Sharon Olds
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Sharon Olds

Past Event: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Born in San Francisco in 1942, Sharon Olds was eduacted at Stanford University and Columbia University, where she earned her doctorate in 1972. Shortly after moving to New York, she heard poet Muriel Rukeyser at a reading in 1967 and fell in love with her “musical and fluid” voice. She then took a poetry appreciation class with Rukeyser. However it wasn’t until 1972, after being awarded her Ph.D., that she started to write her own poetry. She recalls, “I remember leaving my alma mater and making a vow as I walked down the steps, which, because of my early training, I thought was a vow to Satan, ‘I will give up everything I’ve learned if I can just write my own poems.’ And then I realized it wasn’t Satan, it wasn’t God, it was myself I was talking to. And the next day I wrote poems.” Her first book of poems, Satan Says, was published in 1980, when she was thirty-seven.

Her poems examine a diverse range of topics from sexual passion and giving birth to an alcoholic father and nursing a child through a high fever. She is renowned for her vivid language and unambiguous imagery. Although her poems are personal in nature, she adamantly insists on a separation between her life and her work. She explains, “Having written what I like to call ‘apparently personal’ poetry, it’s left me with a kind of double desire—one is to protect people, the other is to protect poems and poetry.”

Her poems have appeared in The New YorkerParis ReviewThe NationPoetry, and other magazines. Since 1990, she has been associate professor in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and helps run the N.Y.U. workshop program at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York. She lives in New York City.

Sharon Olds has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Her first book, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Her second book, The Dead and the Living, was both the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983 and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Father (1992) was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize in England.

Selected WorkBlood, Tin, Straw (1999)The Wellspring (1995)The Father (1992)The Gold Cell (1987)The Dead and the Living (1983)Satan Says (1980) interview with OldsAcademy of American Poets web page of OldsFeatured author in Ploughshares