Date of birth : 1942-11-19
Date of death : -
Birthplace : San Francisco, California
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2013-06-13
Sharon Olds is one of contemporary poetry’s leading voices. Winner of several prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.
Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. She was raised as a “hellfire Calvinist”, as she describes it. She says she was by nature "a pagan and a pantheist" and notes "I was in a church where there was both great literary art and bad literary art, the great art being psalms and the bad art being hymns. The four-beat was something that was just part of my consciousness from before I was born." She adds "I think I was about 15 when I conceived of myself as an atheist, but I think it was only very recently that I can really tell that there's nobody there with a copybook making marks against your name." After graduating from Stanford University she moved east to earn a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University on the prosody of Emerson's poems.
Olds has been the recipient of many awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She currently teaches creative writing at New York University.
In 2005, First Lady Laura Bush invited Olds to the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Olds responded, declining the invitation in an open letter published in the October 10th, 2005 issue of The Nation. The letter closes: "So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it".
Olds released a collection of selected poems, Strike Spark, in 2002. Collecting poems from over two decades, the book received the National Book Critics Circle Award and was widely praised as a good introduction to Olds’s major themes. David Kieley, in a review for the literary blog Bookslut, wrote that the book “is in many ways a poetic memoir in which we keep circling around the subjects of sex, motherhood, and Olds’s troubled childhood and parents in a Catch-22 kind of spiraling chronology... The poems circle a profound atheism in which the physical body is a document of being; physical experience is the primary mode of forming and physical contact the primary human relationship.” Olds’s next volume of new poetry, One Secret Thing (2009) continues to mine similar veins of autobiography, personal myth and dream. Reviewing the book for the New York Times, Joel Brouwer described Olds’s method: "Olds selects intense moments from her family romance—usually ones involving violence or sexuality or both—and then stretches them in opposite directions, rendering them in such obsessive detail that they seem utterly unique to her personal experience, while at the same time using metaphor to insist on their universality."
Olds’s next book, Stag’s Leap (2012), included poems that explored details of her recent divorce, and the book won both the Pulitzer Prize and Britain's T.S. Eliot prize. In awarding the T.S. Eliot prize, Carol Ann Duffy, chair of the final judging panel, said: "This was the book of her career. There is a grace and chivalry in her grief that marks her out as being a world-class poet. I always say that poetry is the music of being human, and in this book she is really singing. Her journey from grief to healing is so beautifully executed."
Satan Says, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1980.
The Dead and the Living, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.
The Gold Cell, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
The Matter of This World, Slow Dancer Press, 1987.
The Sign of Saturn, Secker & Warburg, 1991.
The Father, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
The Wellspring: Poems, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Blood, Tin, Straw, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
The Unswept Room, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
One Secret Thing, Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.
Stag’s Leap, Knopf, 2012.
(Author of foreword) Tory Dent, What Silence Equals, Persea Books (New York, NY) 1993.
(Author of preface) Muriel Rukeyser, The Orgy: An Irish Journey of Passion and Transformation, Paris Press (Ashfield, MA) 1997.
View the full website biography of Sharon Olds.