Carolyn Ashley Kizer (December 10, 1925– October 9, 2014) was an American poet of the Pacific Northwest whose works reflect her feminism. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985.
According to an article at the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, "Kizer reach[ed] into mythology in poems like “Semele Recycled”; into politics, into feminism, especially in her series of poems called “Pro Femina”; into science, the natural world, music, and translations and commentaries on Japanese and Chinese literatures".
Kizer was born in Spokane, Washington, the daughter of a socially prominent Spokane couple,
Her father, Benjamin Hamilton Kizer, who was 45 when she was born, was a successful attorney. Her mother, Mabel Ashley Kizer, was a professor of biology who had received her doctorate from Stanford University.
Kizer was once asked if she agreed with a description of her father as someone who “came across as supremely structured, intelligent, polite but always somewhat remote”. Her reply: “Add 'authoritarian and severe’, and you get a pretty good approximation of how he appeared to that stranger, his child”. At times, she related, her father gave her the same “viscera-shriveling” voice she heard him use later on "members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and other villains of the 50’s, to even more devastating effect", and, she added, “I almost forgave him.”
After graduating from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, she went on to get her bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College (where she studied comparative mythologies with Joseph Campbell) in 1945 and study as a graduate at both Columbia University (1945–46) and the University of Washington (1946–47).
She then moved back to Washington state, and in 1946 married Charles Stimson Bullitt, an attorney from a wealthy and influential Seattle family, with whom she had three children; Fred Nemo, Jill Bullitt, and Ashley Bullitt. In 1954 she enrolled in a creative writing workshop run by poet Theodore Roethke. "Kizer had three small kids, a big house on North Capitol Hill, enough money to get by and more than enough talent and determination. And although one of her poems had been published in The New Yorker when she was 17, she remembers that she needed a nudge from Roethke to get serious." Her marriage to Bullitt ended in divorce in 1954. In 1959, she helped found Poetry Northwest and served as its editor until 1965.
She was a “Specialist in Literature” for the U.S. State Department in Pakistan 1965–1966, during which she taught for several months in that country. In 1966, she became the first director of Literary Programs for the newly created National Endowment for the Arts. She resigned that post in 1970, when the N.E.A. chairman, Roger L. Stevens, was fired by President Richard Nixon. She was a consultant to the N.E.A. for the following year.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she held appointments as poet-in-residence or lecturer at universities across the country including Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, San Jose State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been a visiting writer at literary conferences and events across the country, as well as in Dublin, Ireland, and Paris. Kizer was also a member of the faculty of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
She was appointed to the post of Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1995, but resigned three years later to protest the absence of women and minorities on the governing board.
Kizer was married to the architect-historian, John Marshall Woodbridge. When she was not teaching and lecturing, she divided her time between their home in Sonoma, California and their apartment in Paris.
She died on October 9, 2014 in Sonoma, California due to effects of dementia.
Cool, Calm, and Collected: Poems 1960-2000. Copper Canyon Press. 2001. ISBN 978-1-55659-181-5.
Pro Femina: A Poem BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2000, ISBN 9781886157309
Harping On: Poems 1985-1995, Copper Canyon Press, 1996, ISBN 9781556591150
The Nearness of You, Copper Canyon Press, 1986, ISBN 9780914742968
Yin, BOA Editions, 1984, ISBN 9780918526441—Pulitzer Prize winner
Mermaids in the basement: poems for women, Copper Canyon Press, 1984, ISBN 9780914742807
Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems, Doubleday, 1971
Knock Upon Silence, Doubleday, 1965
The Ungrateful Garden, 1961; Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1999, ISBN 9780887482762
Picking and Choosing: Prose on Prose, Eastern Washington University Press, 1995, ISBN 9780910055253
Proses: Essays on Poets and Poetry, Copper Canyon Press, 1993, ISBN 9781556590450
Carrying Over: Translations from Chinese, Urdu, Macedonian, Hebrew and French-African (Copper Canyon Press, 1986)
100 Great Poems by Women HarperCollins, 1995, ISBN 9780880015813
The Essential Clare (1992)
About Kizer and her work
David Rigsbee (1 January 1990). An Answering Music: On the Poetry of Carolyn Kizer. Ford-Brown. ISBN 978-0-918644-32-9.
Annie Finch; Johanna Keller; Candace McClelland; Carolyn Kizer (2001). Carolyn Kizer: Perspectives on Her Life and Work. CavanKerry Press. ISBN 978-0-9678856-5-0.
* Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1985), for Yin
Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize (1988)
American Academy of Arts and Letters award
Award of Honor of the San Francisco Arts Commission
Borestone Award (six times)
Pushcart Prize (three times)
John Masefield Memorial Award
Governor’s Award for the best book of the year, State of Washington (1965, 1985)