Rest in Peace Adrienne Rich – Poet and Friend

Adrienne Rich was not just this country’s most vital and honored poet, she was a revolutionary thinker and activist—and friend to me, whom she helped when I was barely entering this writer’s life. Adrienne died on Tuesday, March 27 in Santa Cruz, where she has been living for many years. She was 82. Adrienne published a dozen books of poetry and several books of essays over more than a half century. She’s won major awards for her work, including a National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. But she also railed against the “patriarchy” of such competitions, and felt that all nominees should share the prize and do best with this recognition for women. She did exactly that. She was openly political and openly lesbian, and her poetry soared with imagery, ideas, language, rhythm, and immense skill. She was a prime example of how strong politics and highly developed art can come together in a living and dynamic way. She also helped bring along a young writer named Luis Rodriguez in subtle but important ways that I will never forget and always honor. She quoted from my newly published memoir “Always Running” in her 1993 book of essays “What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics.” This was an attention that I appreciate very much, especially since it’s hard to make a mark in this massive and often-segmented literary world of ours. Her mention of me brought badly needed support. In the 1990s, she helped founder/director (and great poet) Michael Warr and the fledgling Guild Complex Literary Center in Chicago, which I also helped create and organize as a board member. I remember a meal we once had, Michael and me, with Adrienne at the Drake Hotel along Chicago’s lakeshore, how warm and bright Adrienne was, so giving and genuine. Then when I returned to Los Angeles after fifteen years in Chicago, she gave money to Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural & Bookstore, newly started by my wife Trini and I, among others. It is now a thriving nonprofit cultural space/bookstore, and Adrienne continued to give when she could—knowing how her health was failing her. This support helped us continue Tia Chucha Press, mostly bringing new powerful cross-cultural voices to poetry, including Terrance Hayes, A. Van Jordan, Linda Susan Jackson, Luivette Resto, Chiwan Choi, Richard Vargas, and more. On Friday night, March 30, Trini and I attended a poetry reading for Mujeres de Maiz (Women of Corn) at Self-Help Graphics Arts Studios in Boyle Heights. There were many voices, many stories, many styles from women across L.A.'s vast Eastside and as far away as Santa Ana and Oakland (and women from Tia Chucha's "In The Words Of Womyn" writing workshops and the Young Warriors youth empowerment project). I could see Adrienne Rich's hand in all this--to legitimize, humanize, and provide deep and broad spaces for women's truths and visions. Perhaps many of the readers or audience members were unaware of the brave and consistent work that Adrienne contributed over the decades. But her impact was still there. My best memory of Adrienne was her reading at Tia Chucha’ Café Cultural not long after we first opened. The place was packed. I had to pick her up from where she was staying at Marina Del Rey, quite a ride from the Northeast San Fernando Valley. We had a pleasant talk on the way. She graciously gave of her time, pulling in energy from who knows where, although I was aware she was not feeling well and needed a cane to get around. During her reading she never showed pain or hesitancy. Her reading was rich, and it brought tears to my eyes. What a great person, woman, poet Adrienne was, is, always will be. Que descanses en paz, mi maestra. c/s

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