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Muriel Rukeyser Biography

(1913–80), Student Review, Theory of Flight, U. S. 1, Beast in View

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: M(acha)L(ouis) Rosenthal Biography to William Sansom [Norman Trevor Sansom] Biography

American poet and biographer, born in New York, educated at Vassar College, where she founded the Student Review with Elizabeth Bishop and Mary McCarthy, and at Columbia University. She subsequently undertook research at the Roosevelt Aviation School, which provided material central to Theory of Flight (1935), her first collection of poetry. From the outset Rukeyser's verse is marked by the political concern which made her active in a succession of causes; she was jailed for her part in protests against the Vietnam War, to which her lyrically elegiac ‘Delta Poems’ form a response. Her numerous collections of verse include U. S. 1 (1938), Beast in View (1944), Body of Waking (1958), The Speed of Darkness (1968), The Gates (1976), and Collected Poems (1978). The polemical qualities of her earlier work were gradually superseded by the more flexibly individual tone around which she developed the free-verse forms of her best-known poems. Her impassioned idealism is conveyed by vividly precise imagery, frequently drawn from her perceptions of natural phenomena. Her biographical works include Willard Gibbs: American Genius (1942), a study of the noted nineteenth-century scientist; One Life (1957), which combines verse, prose, and documentary material for its account of the American business magnate Wendell Willkie; and The Traces of Thomas Hariot (1971), on the life of the Elizabethan mathematician. Among Rukeyser's other works are The Orgy (1965), a novel centring on events at the annual Puck Fair in Kerry, and The Life of Poetry (1949), a collection of her essays on socio-cultural and literary themes which includes autobiographical material.

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