Mary Oliver was born September 10, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio. She attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, but did not receive a degree from either. She lived in the house of Edna St. Vincent Millay for a time, helping Millay’s sister sort through the poet’s writings left behind. Her first collection, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963, and in 1983, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book American Primitive. During the bulk of her writing career, Oliver lived in New England and was greatly influenced by the landscape to which she grew accustomed. Like fellow American poets Walt Witman and Elizabeth Bishop, Oliver paid careful attention to her physical surroundings, focusing much on the natural world and eventually, her place in it.
Throughout her career, Mary Oliver has published a new collection of poetry or prose every few years. Her book New and Selected Poems, published in 1992, won the National Book Award. Other notable works published include House of Light (1990), Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999), Why I Wake Early (2004), and Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays (2003). Along with the Pulitzer Prize, Oliver has received several additional honors and awards for her writing, including the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize and fellowships from both the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She also won the American Academy of Arts & Letters Award and Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. Oliver held the Catherine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College until 2001, and is currently living in Provincetown, Massachusetts.