Carolyn Kizer was born December 10, 1925, in Spokane, Washington. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and did graduate work at both Columbia University and the University of Washington. It was there she studied under poetic predecessor Theodore Roethke. She cofounded Poetry Northwest in 1959, and served as editor until 1965. She worked as a literary specialist for the U.S. State Department in Pakistan from 1964–65, and she was the first Director of the Literature Program at the National Endowment for the Arts from 1966–70. She also lectured and taught at several universities.
She began publishing her work in 1959 with her first collection, Poems. Her first critically noted work, however, came two years later with The Ungrateful Garden (1961), in which she examines our relation to nature. She published Knock Upon Silence, in 1965; Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems, in 1971; and Mermaids in the Basement: Poems for Women, in 1984. The same year, she also published Yin: New Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. The work focuses on the feminine experience and features some of the poet’s more notable writings, including “Muse,” “Semele Recycled,” and “Fanny.” In 1986, she published a sequel of sorts to Mermaids with The Nearness of You: Poetry for Men. In 1996, she published Harping On: Poems 1985–1995, followed by Cool, Calm & Collected (Copper Canyon Press, 2000). Known as an advocate for human rights and feminism, Kizer deems herself a political poet without being “propagandistic.” She is at times witty and sarcastic, but above all else, her life and work always reflect a deep appreciation for poetic form and an advocacy for poetry as an art.
She is the recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, and the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award. She currently resides in Sonoma, California and Paris, France.