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Sharon Olds Biography

(1942– ), Satan Says, The Dead and the Living, The Gold Cell, The Sign of Saturn

American poet, born in San Francisco, educated at Stanford and Columbia; she has lectured at several colleges, and taught creative writing at New York University. By her own commentary, Olds ‘began by working in close forms, then more and more wanted a line-break and poem-shape which felt more alive to me’. What distinguishes her verse, however, is not formal qualities but the humanity and vigour with which she writes. Her debut, Satan Says (1980), made an immediate impact with its candid views of motherhood, mother–daughter relations, sexuality, and adolescence. Hers are strong, writing-the-body poems, triumphantly so in perhaps her most admired poem ‘The Language of the Brag’. The Dead and the Living (1984) and The Gold Cell (1987) continued to view human dramas with compassion. ‘The Girl’ concerns the rape and murder of a teenager, ‘What If God’ maternal incest, and ‘Summer Solstice, New York City’ depicts a potential suicide being enveloped by the roof-top efforts to save him. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Olds has earned a reputation as one of the vital talents in contemporary American poetry. A selected poems, The Sign of Saturn, appeared in 1991 followed by The Father (1992).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography