Shirley Kaufman

Shirley Kaufman used her Jewish heritage to create evocative poetry, exploring biblical matriarchs, her own mother’s immigrant past, and the tensions of daily life in modern Israel. Kaufman earned a BA from UCLA in 1944 and married in 1946, only returning to writing as her three daughters grew up. She joined the creative writing program at San Francisco State University and there discovered the Spanish surrealist poets, whose work heavily influenced her own. Her first book of poetry, The Floor Keeps Turning, won the First Book Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1970 and her second book, Gold Country, was also widely praised. In 1973 she moved to Israel, divorcing and remarrying the following year. Her poetry used surrealism and juxtaposition to explore her fraught relationships with the women in her life, from biblical matriarchs to her mother and her daughters, including the widely anthologized “Mothers, Daughters,” which recounts the daily battle of raising a teenager. Kaufman also earned a reputation as a skilled translator of Israeli poets like Yehuda Amichai and the Dutch Jewish poet Judith Hertzberg. In 1999, she edited a bilingual anthology of women poets, The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present.

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Shirley Kaufman.
Photograph by Aliza Auerbach, courtesy of Shirley Kaufman.
Date of Birth

Seattle, WA
United States

Poet, Translator, Editor

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Shirley Kaufman." (Viewed on September 29, 2020) <>.


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