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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- John Ashbery
- Amiri Baraka
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Allen Ginsberg
- Joy Harjo
- Audre Lorde
- Sylvia Plath
- Adrienne Rich
- Gary Snyder
- James Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities


The information for each author includes biographical and contextual materials and activities.

John Ashbery (b. 1927)
John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, and he earned his B.A. from Harvard University. He also received an M.A. from Columbia, where he wrote his thesis on English novelist Henry Green, who is known for his detached and witty style. Ashbery studied as a Fulbright scholar in France from 1955 to 1957 and returned there in 1958. He earned a living by... Go

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (b. 1934)
Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey. A creative child, he enjoyed cartooning and creative writing, particularly science fiction. Also gifted academically, Jones graduated from high school two years early and attended Howard University, where he was disappointed by... Go

Lorna Dee Cervantes (b. 1954)
Cervantes was born in San Francisco and is of Mexican descent. Sensitive to the racial and ethnic prejudice she might encounter growing up in San Jose, her parents insisted that she speak only English both in and outside the home. She graduated from San Jose State College and for many years supported herself by writing and publishing. Cervantes founded and published a journal... Go

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Louis, a poet and high school teacher, and Naomi, who was of Russian descent. A graduate of Paterson public schools, Ginsberg developed an early friendship with the poet William Carlos Williams, who served as an important mentor during his early development. After leaving New Jersey to attend Columbia University, Ginsberg met the novelist William Burroughs, who... Go

Joy Harjo (b. 1951)
The daughter of a mixed Cherokee, French, and Irish mother and a Creek father, Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a student and poet, Harjo has remained in touch with her Native American roots. She left Tulsa as a teenager to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts, a high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico and... Go

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
The daughter of West Indian parents, Audre Lorde was born in Harlem. She graduated from Hunter College in 1961 and earned a Masters in Library Science from Columbia University. For the next decade, she worked as a librarian and teacher. Lorde was also poet in residence at Tougaloo College, Mississippi, and taught at a number of colleges in New York City. Although she is known primarily as... Go

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
Sylvia Plath spent most of her childhood in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she lived close to her maternal grandparents. Her father, Otto Plath, was an entomology professor at Boston University, where he was known for his pioneering work on bumblebees. In 1940, when Plath was eight years old, her father died, which forced her mother, Aurelia, to enter the workforce. Despite her efforts, however, money was... Go

Adrienne Rich (b. 1929)
Born in Baltimore, Adrienne Rich describes her mother and grandmother as "frustrated artists," whose talents were denied expression by culture and circumstance. Perhaps their example, along with her father's encouragement, sparked her desire to become a writer at a time when women were still trying to prove themselves in a male-dominated arena. After graduating from Radcliffe in 1951, Rich was recognized for... Go

Gary Snyder (b. 1930)
Gary Snyder was raised on a dairy farm in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated with a B.A. in anthropology from Reed College and worked as a logger in the Pacific Northwest before going to Berkeley to study Asian languages from 1953 to 1956. During this time, he also met Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and many of the other writers identified with the Beat movement. After spending three years in... Go

James Wright (1927-1980)
James Wright grew up in Martins Ferry, Ohio, a small midwestern town hit hard by the depression. Wright's father worked in a factory to make ends meet, and the financial hardships endured by the family influenced Wright deeply, as later evidenced by his poetry about the poor and marginalized in American society. Wright received his undergraduate degree from Kenyon College, a center for creative writing at the... Go

Suggested Author Pairings Go

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