One of our brightest lights, out.
And not just a light in the conventional sense of the word, when it’s usually applied to literary luminaries, “stars,” celebrities, the best and brightest.
Light in the sense of: the opposite of darkness, a beacon banishing the shadows of oppression, of suffering, of patriarchy, of hate and exploitation and genocide and racism. Light as fire, creative instead of destructive. A candle, a campfire, a lighthouse.
In October of 2007, I was privileged to be part of the planning committee for the Marshall T. Meyer Awards with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, when we honored Adrienne. I wrote the following brief words that were read when the award was presented to her. There’s video, here, of her marvelous acceptance speech from that night. I didn’t get to meet her then, although I had adored and admired her for ages, and in fact I couldn’t even get a seat, but standing in the back of the synagogue and watching her acceptance I felt so moved and touched to be part of the event, and to use the following few measly words (even if someone else was reading them) to help communicate how profoundly and brilliantly she had changed so many of our worlds:
When an artist has become one of the most respected and admired voices of her generation, it’s easy to think of her as simply “part of the landscape.” Adrienne Rich has never let that happen. From refusing the National Medal of the Arts from then-President Bill Clinton because, as she said, “the very meaning of art is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration,” to nurturing marginalized voices and diving into the wreckage of history to salvage new narratives of resistance, Adrienne’s voice has, as E.M.Forster said of Virginia Woolf, “pushed the light of the English language a little further against the darkness.” Adrienne Rich’s every line is an eloquent rebuttal of the assumption that politics is not the proper province of poetry. Her work has constantly interrogated notions of identity, nation, democracy and place. Adrienne’s art asks: what does it mean to be a woman, an American, to be white, a lesbian, Jewish, a citizen in a democracy? How do these identities enrich or oppress us, or make us party to oppression? What responsibilities do they demand? What legacies do we inherit with them? Her successful blending of aesthetics,politics and the erotic has enriched contemporary poetry and our nation’s literary canon beyond measure. And the same passion she has wielded with her pen, she has brought to a lifetime’s engagment in struggles for social justice. For her unceasing witness to the power of art as activism and activism through and beyond art, JFREJ is honored to present Adrienne Rich with the 2007 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award.