A Change of World

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Release date: March 14, 2018
Produced by: New York Public Radio
Running time: 59 minutes

"A Change of World" tells the story of how poets who were swept up in the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 70s radically changed American poetry. As poet Alicia Ostriker says, "For the first time in the history of writing, which is about 4000 years or so, women could write without fear, without constantly looking over their shoulder to see if they were going to be approved of by men.” How did this come about? In the face of continuing sexism in the literary establishment, women poets began forming their own informal communities, with readings, magazines, bookstores, workshops and mentorships. We’ll hear about this movement from poets who participated, like Sharon Olds, Judy Grahn, Sonia Sanchez, Susan Griffin, as well as archival audio from some of the leading poets of the time.

A generation of literary pioneers receive their due in the new radio documentary A Change of World, which came to our attention through a broadcast on New York Public Radio last weekend. Produced by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and narrated by Meryl Streep, the timely and welcome program offers a vivid history of how the second-wave feminist movement of the late 1960s and ’70s electrified and enriched contemporary American poetry. Through the testimony of poets like Joan Larkin, Alicia Ostriker, and Carolyn Forché, the documentary describes the galvanizing effect that Anne Sexton’s debut volume To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and Sylvia Plath’s posthumously published Ariel (1965) had on a generation of women writers. It acknowledges the contributions of poets of color like Sonia Sanchez and Audre Lorde, and recounts the transformative moment at the 1974 National Book Awards when Adrienne Rich, having won the NBA in Poetry for her collection Diving Into the Wreck, gave her acceptance speech in solidarity with her fellow nominees Lorde and Alice Walker.

A key participant in A Change of World is Library of America Advisor Honor Moore, who edited LOA’s anthology Poems from the Women’s Movement. A Change of World is an excellent complement to the collection, which presents the work of fifty-eight poets united, as Moore writes in her introduction, “by a common need to understand and change not only how women wrote poems, but how they used poems, and how they lived.” Moore’s anthology includes all of the names cited in the documentary, along with June Jordan, Eileen Myles, Sharon Olds, and many more.

A Change of World has aired on more than thirty radio stations nationwide. The hour-long program is available for streaming on the WNYC website.