Sharon Olds, (born November 19, 1942, San Francisco, California, U.S.), American poet best known for her powerful, often erotic, imagery of the body and her examination of the family.
Olds grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of an abusive, alcoholic father and a weak, compliant mother; her anger at her parents would influence her poetry. She studied at Stanford University (B.A., 1964) and at Columbia University (Ph.D., 1972). Thereafter she taught poetry at numerous schools and in workshops. She was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for her work in 1981.
Olds’s first collection, Satan Says (1980), describes her early sexual life in frank language. The book was praised as a daring, auspicious debut. In The Dead and the Living (1984), which received several major poetry awards, she refined her poetic voice. Her poems honouring the dead encompass both family members and victims of political violence; those addressed to the living continue to examine the life of the body. She further developed this theme in The Gold Cell (1987). The poet presents arguments against her parents’ marriage in “I Go Back to May 1937” and explores their relationship in other poems in the collection. The Matter of This World: New and Selected Poems (1987) and The Father (1992) continue her intimate meditations—free of bitterness and self-pity—on her own life, as does The Wellspring (1996), a collection of poems treating marital and parental relationships. Olds’s later collections include Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), The Unswept Room (2002), One Secret Thing (2008), and Stag’s Leap (2012). The latter volume, for which she was awarded both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, chronicles the 1997 dissolution of her marriage.
Born in San Francisco on November 19, 1942, Sharon Olds earned a BA at Stanford University and a PhD at Columbia University.
Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Olds's following collection, The Dead & the Living (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Her other collections include Stag's Leap (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize; One Secret Thing (Random House, 2008); Strike Sparks: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004); The Unswept Room (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002); Blood, Tin, Straw (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); The Gold Cell (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997); The Wellspring (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and The Father (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
About Olds's poetry, one reviewer for the New York Times said, "Her work has a robust sensuality, a delight in the physical that is almost Whitmanesque. She has made the minutiae of a woman's everyday life as valid a subject for poetry as the grand abstract themes that have preoccupied other poets."
Olds is the recipient of the 2016 Wallace Stevens Award. About Olds, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Mark Doty said:
With unfailing courage and a profound moral intelligence, with an unshakable faith in the necessity of inquiry into experience, Sharon Olds has crafted a life’s work of remarkable power. The driving rhythms and artful structures of her poems are in service of a rigorous examination of her own life, and the lives of those around her. By writing with such candor and clarity, Olds has granted younger poets—especially women—permission to speak. Her poems, in their evocation of trauma or desire, in their grief and joy and comedy, have opened new possibilities for poetry in our time. She is an American master, and a national treasure.
Her numerous other honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Her poetry has been anthologized in more than a hundred collections.
Olds held the position of New York state poet laureate from 1998 to 2000. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2006 to 2012. She currently teaches poetry workshops at New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program as well as a workshop at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
Stag's Leap (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)
One Secret Thing (Random House, 2008)
Strike Sparks: Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)
The Unswept Room (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
Blood, Tin, Straw (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)
The Gold Cell (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997)
The Wellspring (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)
The Father (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)
The Dead & the Living (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984)
Satan Says (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980)