The Poet As Public Intellectual
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Published in: March-April 2019 issue.


Essential Essays: Culture, Politics and the Art of Poetry
by Adrienne Rich
Edited by Sandra Gilbert
Norton. 352 pages, $27.95



ADRIENNE RICH (1929–2012) was a 20th-century poet who wrote essays and criticism with the same ease and effectiveness that she brought to her major craft. This ability places her in the company of James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, J. D. McClatchy, and a relatively small cohort of others. Another distinction is that Rich, like Baldwin and Vidal, was exceptionally engaged with the issues of the day. These writers—along with Ursula K. Le Guin and a few other so-called “public intellectuals”—were in effect successors to Lionel Trilling and others of the early 20th century. This new generation appeared on schedule; what changed was the subject matter. The Cold War and its precursors and baggage were no longer the controlling influences for writers who began their major work from the late 1960s onward.

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Alan Contreras is a writer and higher education consultant who lives in Eugene, Oregon.