Muriel Rukeyser (1913-80) was born in New York City. She attended Vassar College for two years and then moved back to New York where she took classes at Columbia University. After college, she worked as an editor of the Student Review and witnessed events which were to make a serious impact on her life and poetry, including the Scottsboro trial in Alabama, the Gauley Bridge tragedy in West Virginia, and the civil war in Spain.
The violence and injustice she saw, in the United States and abroad, led her poetry to function as a mode of social protest. She felt a deep responsibility to comment on human issues and was particularly concerned with inequalities of sex, race and class. With her poems, she frequently documented her own emotional experiences within the context of a greater political or social event. She was a powerful visionary and her work reflects her wish for a greater world community united by love.
Rukeyser experimented with language and form, and her wide technical range, including lyrical forms and the documentary narrative, is illustrated in Adrienne Rich's edition of her Selected Poems (Library of America, USA, 2004; Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2013). Many women poets have claimed Rukeyser's influence on their work, notably Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds and Marilyn Hacker. Two seminal anthologies of American women poets, Louise Bernikow's The World Split Open (1974) and Florence Howe's No More Masks (1973), took their titles from Rukeyser's poems, the latter from her poetic manifesto, 'The Poem as Mask', in which she declared: 'No more masks! No more mythologies!// Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,//the fragments join in me with their own music.' And Ruth Rosen followed Bernikow in taking her title, The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America (2000/2006), from Rukeyser's poem 'Käthe Kollwitz'.
Her other significant works include her lectures, collected in her influential book The Life of Poetry (1949/1996); a memoir, The Orgy (1965/1997); and her novel Savage Coast, based on her experiences in Spain at the outbreak of the civil war, written in 1936, rejected by publishers at the time, and finally published in 2013 by the Feminist Press in New York.
Books by Muriel Rukeyser