1901 – 1991
Laura Riding, also known as Laura Riding Jackson, was an unconventional poet and critic who is credited with helping shape modern poetry. She worked closely with a number of the leading writers and later in near-isolation. Her career moved from literary circles in New York and London to a modest citrus farm in Florida. Helping to define modern poetry, she gave up writing poetry herself for a time but later began publishing again after a silence of thirty years. Her poetry is intellectual and introspective, often dealing with abstract questions like the role of the poet in confronting truth. Her work was never widely read or popular; yet she was an influential figure among other writers and thinkers, exerting, from all accounts, a dynamic, forceful, often eccentric personality.
Riding was born in New York City on January 16, 1901, the daughter of Nathaniel S. and Sarah (Edersheim) Reichenthal; she described her parents as Jewish but not very religious. Judaism seems to have had little influence on her life, personal or professional, and biographers note her rejection of both Judaism and her father’s socialism. Scholars have also noted that her various name changes accompany major transition points in her life.
A promising student, she attended Cornell University on a scholarship, but did not complete her degree. In 1920, she married a Cornell history instructor, Louis Gottschalk, and then moved with him first to Illinois and then to Kentucky. At this point, she decided to pursue a career as a poet, and her early work was acclaimed by the “Fugitive” writers. Her marriage was dissolved in 1925. No longer married to Gottschalk, she nonetheless changed her name to Laura Riding Gottschalk, the name under which she published her first two volumes of poetry.
After a brief period in New York, her name now Anglicized to Laura Riding, she went to England, where she lived with the poet Robert Graves and his family. In 1929, during an emotionally tumultuous period, Riding attempted suicide. After her recovery, she and Graves settled in Majorca, where they ran the Seizin Press, produced a journal called Epilogue, and collaborated on books including A Survey of Modernist Poetry. Between 1926 and 1938, she wrote prolifically and published numerous volumes of poetry. The peak of her career came with the publication of Collected Poems in 1938, and in fact soon afterward she renounced poetry. With the start of the Spanish Civil War, she and Graves went to the United States, where their relationship ended.
Riding later married Schuyler Jackson, the poetry reviewer for Time magazine. Moving to Florida, they raised fruit and pursued independent scholarship in linguistics. After Jackson’s death in 1968, Riding continued working on their lexicography project, assisted by a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded in 1973. Riding continued to write, and there was a resurgence of interest in her work in the 1970s and 1980s when she published new critical works and revised editions of her poetry. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1979, and was awarded a Bollingen Prize in early 1991 for her lifelong devotion to the art and ideals of poetry.
Laura Riding died of heart failure in Florida on September 2, 1991.
Adams, Barbara. The Enemy Self: Poetry and Criticism of Laura Riding (1990); Annual Obituary 1991, edited by Deborah Andrews (1992); Baker, Deborah. In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding (1993); Contemporary Authors, New Revised Series 28:251–253; Contemporary Literary Criticism 373, 377; Nye, Robert, ed. A Selection of the Poems of Laura Riding (1994); Riding, Laura. Papers. Laura and Schuyler B. Jackson Collection, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and Joint University Libraries, Nashville, Tenn., and Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., and State University of New York, Buffalo, N.Y.; Wallace, Jo-Ann. “Laura Riding.” In The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States, edited by Cathy Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin (1995); Wexler, Joyce Piell. “Laura Riding.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography 48: 236–245, and Laura Riding: A Bibliography (1981), and Laura Riding’s Pursuit of Truth (1979).