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Poet Maxine Kumin wins Pulitzer Prize

May 7, 1973
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Early on in life, Maxine Kumin discovered the difficulties inherent in being a woman and a writer: “It was commonplace to be told by an editor that he’d like to publish more of my poems, but he’d already published one by a woman that month.” She persevered, and American literature is the richer for it.

Institution: Sylvia Edwards, Longview Community College


Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on June 6, 1925, Maxine Kumin earned a B.A. in history and literature from Radcliffe in 1946. She published her first book of poems, Halfway, in 1961. By then, Kumin had already published three books for children: Sebastian and the Dragon (1960), Follow the Fall (1961), and Summer Story (1961). Four years later, in 1965, Kumin published a second book of poems, The Privilege, and her first novel, Through Dooms of Love. The novel, about a pawnbroker and his "romantic, cause-loving" daughter, was praised by a New York Times reviewer as "serious and effective," and "precisely rendered, with a compassion that is passed on effortlessly to the reader."

Since then, Kumin has published more than a dozen books of poetry, along with several novels, short story collections, essay collections, and a memoir. She has also published numerous children's books, including four co-authored with poet Anne Sexton. Kumin's 1972 poetry collection, Up Country: Poems of New England, won the Pulitzer Prize on May 7, 1973.

Kumin has been compared to Robert Frost and to Henry David Thoreau, for the way in which her poetry engages the New England landscape and is deeply rooted in a sense of place.

Kumin's identity as a woman and a Jew also shines through her work. Several of her novels, including The Designated Heir and Passions of Uxport, examine themes of love, marriage, and women's struggles to define their identities. Many poems, including a series that explores Kumin's own family history, address Jewish themes, especially relationships between Jews and non-Jews.

Kumin has received many awards for her work. Among these are a grant from the National Council on the Arts (1966), the American Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1980), and a $10,000 fellowship for "distinguished poetic achievement" from the Academy of American Poets (1985). In 1996, she was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, but resigned in 1998 to protest the lack of diversity on the board of chancellors, which had never included a Black woman poet.

Kumin's collection, Still To Mow, was published in 2007. Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 was published in 2010.

To learn more about Maxine Kumin, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Poetry in the United States.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 766-767; New York Times, April 11, 1965; September 4, 1966; November 19, 1972; November 18, 1985; November 14, 1998; Washington Post, Times Herald, May 8, 1973.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Poet Maxine Kumin wins Pulitzer Prize." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/may/07/1973/maxine-kumin>.