Image of Alicia Ostriker.

Poet, critic, and activist Alicia Ostriker was born in 1937 in New York City. She earned degrees from Brandeis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Twice a finalist for the National Book Award, Ostriker has published numerous volumes of poetry, including Waiting for the Light (2017), which awarded the Berru Award from the Jewish Book Council, and The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog (2014), The Book of Seventy (2009), which received the Jewish National Book Award. Other books of poetry include No Heaven (2005); The Volcano Sequence (2002); Little Space (1998), a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Crack in Everything (1996), which won the Paterson Award and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award; The Imaginary Lover (1986), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award; A Woman Under the Surface (1983), Once More Out of Darkness (1974), and Songs (1969).

Known for her intelligence and passionate appraisal of women’s place in literature, Ostriker’s poetry and criticism investigates themes of family, social justice, Jewish identity, and personal growth. Ostriker’s books of criticism include For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book (2009), Dancing at the Devil’s Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic (2000), and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America (1983). Of her place in American letters, the writer Joyce Carol Oates noted: “Alicia Ostriker has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves.”

Ostriker told Contemporary Authors: “People who do not know my work ask me what I write about. I answer: love, sex, death, violence, family, politics, religion, friendship, painters and painting, the body in sickness and health. Joy and pain. I try not to write the same poem over and over. I try to stretch my own envelope, to write what I am afraid to write. Composing an essay, a review or a piece of literary criticism, I know more or less what I am doing and what I want to say. When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark. Or else I am an aperture. Something needs to be put into language, and it chooses me. I invite such things. ‘Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me,’ as D.H. Lawrence says. I write as an American, a woman, a Jew, a mother, a wife, a lover of beauty and art, a teacher, an idealist, a skeptic. Critics seem often to remark that I am ‘intelligent’—but I see myself also as passionate. Actually, I am a combination of mind, body, and feelings, like everyone else, and I try to get them all into play.

“When I give poetry readings, my hope is to make people in my audience laugh and cry. They often do. The gamble is that my words will reach others, touch their inner lives. When I write literary criticism, I try to see and say clearly what is actually there in the work of other poets. Teaching is extremely important to me, my students are important, I try my best to awaken them to the delight of using their minds. Although clarity is unfashionable, I encourage it. When I teach midrash writing workshops—midrash is an ancient genre which involves elaborating on Biblical stories and characters—I want people to discover how powerfully the Bible speaks to the issues of our own time: gender roles, family dynamics, social class, freedom and slavery, war and peace, fear of the stranger, and the need to overcome that fear. These are my issues, too… All poets have their chosen ancestors and affinities. As an American poet I see myself in the line of Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg, those great enablers of the inclusive democratic impulse, the corollary of which is formal openness. As a student I wrote in traditional closed forms, as did they—before they discovered the joy and meaning of open forms. To write in open forms is to improvise. Improvisatory verse is like doing a jazz solo: we know what we’ve just done, and the next line has to be connected to it, has to grow out of it somehow, but there is an essential unpredictability. This is an American invention because we act, in America, as if the future is partly shaped by the past, but is not determined by it. We are (a little bit) free.”

Ostriker has received awards and fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the Poetry Society of America, and the San Francisco State Poetry Center, among others. In 2015 she was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She has taught in the low-residency Poetry MFA program of Drew University and New England College. She lives in Princeton, NJ, is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University.







  • Songs, Holt (New York, NY), 1969.
  • Once More out of Darkness, and Other Poems, Smith/Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1971, enlarged edition, Berkeley Poets Cooperative (Berkeley, CA), 1974.
  • A Dream of Springtime, Smith/Horizon Press (New York, NY), 1979.
  • The Mother/Child Papers, Momentum (Santa Monica, CA), 1980.
  • A Woman under the Surface: Poems and Prose Poems, Princeton University Press, 1982.
  • The Imaginary Lover, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986.
  • Green Age, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.
  • The Crack in Everything, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996.
  • The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.
  • The Volcano Sequence, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.
  • No Heaven, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.
  • The Book of Seventy, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.
  • The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014.


  • Vision and Verse in William Blake, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1965.
  • (Editor) William Blake: Complete Poems, Penguin (New York, NY), 1977.
  • Writing like a Woman, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1983.
  • Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women Poets in America, Beacon, 1986.
  • Feminist Revision and the Bible, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1992.
  • The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1994.
  • (Author of preface) The Five Scrolls (Old Testament Bible), Vintage (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Dancing at the Devil’s Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2000.
  • For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book, Rutgers University Press (Piscataway, NJ), 2008.

Contributor of poems and essays to literary reviews and magazines, including American Poetry Review, New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Nation, Poetry, Signs, Tikkun, and New York Times Book Review. Contributor of poems and essays to anthologies, including Unsettling America: Race and Ethnicity in Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Viking, 1994; Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible, edited by Christina Büchman and Celina Spiegel, Ballantine, 1994; Our Mothers, Our Selves, Writers and Poets Celebrating Motherhood, edited by Karen Donnelly and J.B. Bernstein, Bergen and Garvey (Westport, CT), 1996; and Worlds in Our Words: Contemporary American Women Writers, edited by Marilyn Kallett and Patricia Clark, Prentice Hall, 1997. Some of Ostriker’s poems were included in Best American Poetry and Yearbook of American Poetry, 1996, and one poem was included in Pushcart Prize Anthology, 1999. Ostriker’s poems have been translated into French, Italian, German, Japanese, Hebrew, and Arabic.

Further Readings


  • Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 24, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, third series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
  • Jewish American Women Writers, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.


  • American Literature, October, 1987, p. 464.
  • American Poetry Review, July-August, 1981; July, 1986, p. 12.
  • American Voice, Volume 45, 1997, Gary Pacernik, "Interview with Alicia Ostriker."
  • Belle Lettres, summer, 1990, p. 30; fall, 1993, p. 56; spring, 1995, p. 44.
  • Booklist, April 15, 1986, p. 1176; February 15, 1987, p. 871; March, 1988, p. 25; September 1, 1989, p. 29; December 1, 1994, p. 1546; May 1, 1996, p. 1485.
  • Borderlands: The Texas Poetry Review, spring, 1993, pp. 80-6.
  • Choice, December, 1986, p. 627; July, 1987, p. 871; March, 1990, p. 1146.
  • Contemporary Literature, summer, 1988, pp. 305-310.
  • Criticism, fall, 1989, pp. 505-507.
  • Georgia Review, fall, 1987, p. 631.
  • Hiram Poetry Review, fall-winter, 1982, review of The Mother/Child Papers.
  • Hudson Review, autumn, 1985, p. 516; winter, 1997, p. 659+.
  • Hungry Mind Review, fall, 1996, p. 28.
  • Iowa Review, spring, 1982, pp. 137-139.
  • Jerusalem Post, November 27, 1997, Helen Kaye, "Poet with a Punch."
  • Jewish Bulletin, April 14, 1995, Natalie Weinstein, "Professor Reworks Biblical Stories with Feminist's Eye."
  • Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, fall, 1986, p. 34; April, 1988, p. 26.
  • Library Journal, May 1, 1986, p. 121; November 15, 1986, p. 100; January 1987, p. 57; September 15, 1989, p. 114; April 1, 1996, p. 87; December, 1998, Judy Clarence, review of The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998, p. 112.
  • Literature and Medicine, Volume 16, number 2, 1997, pp. 273-77.
  • Literature and Psychology, 1992, pp. 71-83.
  • Michigan Quarterly Review, spring, 1991, pp. 354-366.
  • Ms., August, 1986, p. 75.
  • Nation, May 12, 1997, p. 54, review of The Crack in Everything.
  • National Forum, summer, 1987, p. 45.
  • New Directions for Women, November-December, 1983, p. 17; January, 1988, p. 17.
  • New York Times Book Review, July 20, 1986, p. 21; June 7, 1987, p. 15.
  • Parnassus: Poetry in Review, winter, 2000, pp. 24-30.
  • Poetry, March, 1983; February, 1987, p. 294; July, 1990, p. 226.
  • Poets and Writers, November-December, 1989, pp. 16-26.
  • Prairie Schooner, March, 1984, pp. 82-84.
  • Progressive, March, 1999, Joel Brouwer, review of The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998, p. 43.
  • Publishers Weekly, October 24, 1984; March 21, 1986, p. 79; October 24, 1986, p. 69; October 6, 1989, p. 94; November 14, 1994, p. 34; April 26, 1996, p. 63; November 2, 1998, review of The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998, p. 74.
  • Religious Studies Review, April, 1989, p. 141.
  • San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1983.
  • Scientific American, September, 1994, Cory S. Powell, "Profile: Jeremiah and Alicia Ostriker, A Marriage of Science and Art," pp. 28, 31.
  • Signs, winter, 1984, p. 384; autumn, 1988, p. 220; autumn, 1989, pp. 220-222.
  • Sojourner, April, 1987, pp. 1-3, review of The Mother/Child Papers.
  • Tikkun, January-February, 1996, pp. 94-96, review of The Nakedness of the Fathers.
  • Times Educational Supplement, August 28, 1987, p. 15.
  • Times Literary Supplement, July 10, 1987, p. 748.
  • Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, fall, 2000.
  • US, November 18, 1998, Nicole Plett, "A Poet's Dazzling Mind."
  • USA Today, February 13, 1984.
  • Village Voice, February 6, 1990, p. 59.
  • Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1990, p. 65; winter, 1997, p. 29.
  • Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1986, p. 85.
  • Women's Review of Books, February, 1984; April, 1987, p. 14; December, 1998; July, 2000, Adrian Oktenberg, "Poetry, Politics, and Passion," pp. 41-42.
  • World Literature Today, spring, 1987, p. 291; autumn, 1999, p. 745.


  • Pif Magazine, (September 5, 2000), Rachel Barenblat, review of Dancing at the Devil's Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic.
  • Women's Global Perspectives (video), interview with Ostriker by Hazel Staats-Westover, International Center, (video), interview with Ostriker by Hazel Staats-Westover, International Center, Princeton University, 1996.