When asked about the role Judaism played in her life, Grace Schulman responded that being Jewish “is an immense cultural privilege … [because] it leads to knowledge of other languages and cultures.” Schulman’s poetry reflects this sentiment, for it is in her poems that the reader may travel to a variety of edifying spheres wherein time and space evanesce. Though her cultural identity is significantly connected with much of her writing, the environment in which Schulman was raised cultivated her as a poet and thinker.
Grace Waldman Schulman was born in 1935, in New York City, to Marcella and Bernard Waldman. Marcella, a sixth-generation American Jew, was educated in Portugal. Bernard, an immigrant from Poland, studied at University College, London, and in Germany. The Waldmans raised Grace on West 86th Street, in an environment about which she now reflects, “The sophistication of it was stifling in a way, but kind and encouraging.” Her home was frequented by various intellectuals who, along with her parents, stimulated Grace to write poetry by the age of seven. At the age of fourteen, she met Marianne Moore, about whom she later wrote her doctoral dissertation. Moore remained an influential figure upon Grace—and a “miraculous” friend—until her death in 1972. Marcella Waldman, also a writer, fostered her daughter’s interests and taught her how to type.
Schulman attended American University (B.S., 1954), Bard College, and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Between earning her master’s and doctoral degrees (1960 and 1971, respectively) from New York University, she worked briefly as a reporter. She became the poetry editor of the Nation in 1972 and a professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, in 1973. During that year, she won fellowships from Yaddo, the Karolyi Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. She worked as the director of the Poetry Center at the 92nd Street YM/YWHA from 1974 until 1984. In 1975, Schulman won the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from International PEN. Since then, she has contributed significantly to studies in poetry with her writings on Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, and May Swenson and her translations of T. Carmi.
Schulman’s first collection of poems, Burn Down the Icons (1976), is a creative response to Christian symbolism and poets who attracted her as a young writer. Her second, Hemispheres (1984), is largely about Israel and includes a poem (“Songs of my Fathers”) about her grandmother’s grandfather, Shmuel, a Romanian Jewish immigrant. Similarly in For That Day Only (1994), Schulman recalls the memory of her immigrant grandfather, David, from whom she acquired both her love of New York and her love of walking, in a salient poem, “Footsteps on Lower Broadway.” In this poem, Schulman expertly draws together three visions of New York—her grandfather’s, Walt Whitman’s, and her own—invoking a shared sacred space wherein certain “haunts” are experienced in various ways. The narrative itself is a tour through parts of the city sanctified by Whitman’s and Grandfather Dave’s meanderings, and develops out of a comparison of their perspectives on aspects of New York (e.g., a synagogue on Crosby Street).
Schulman received the Delmore Schwartz Award for Poetry in 1996, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry in 2002, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004. She lives with her husband, Jerome Schulman, a research scientist and professor, in New York and East Hampton.
The Poems of Marianne Moore (2003); Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems (2002); The Paintings of Our Lives (2001); For That Day Only (1994); “Marianne Moore and E. McKnight Kauffer: Their Friendship, Their Concerns.” Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry (1990); “‘The Voice Inside’: Translating the Poetry of T. Carmi.” In Translating Poetry: The Double Labyrinth, edited by Daniel Weissbort (1989); “Sylvia Plath and Yaddo.” Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath. Edited by Alexander Paul (1985); “Grace Schulman.” Recording (1984); Hemispheres (1984); “Marianne Moore and E. McKnight Kauffer: Two Characteristic Americans.” Twentieth-Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal 30, no. 2–3 (Summer/Fall 1984): 175–180; Two Decades of New Poets (1983); “Literature, The Nation, and the World.” In The Art of Literary Publishing: Editors and Their Craft. Edited by Bill Henderson (1980); Burn Down the Icons (1976); “Women as Literary Innovators.” Recording (1976).