Adrienne Rich, "Claiming an Education"
Adrienne Rich (1929- ) was born in Baltimore, Maryland and earned an
A.B. from Radcliffe College in 1951. A poet and an essayist, Rich has
also taught at Swarthmore College, Columbia University, and the University
of Chicago. Her collections of poetry include A Change of World
(1951), Diving into the Wreck (1973), Your Native Land, Your
Life (1986), and Midnight Salvage (1999). Among her prose work
are the collections On Lies, Secrets and Silence (1979) and Arts
of the Possible: Essays and Conversations (2001). Her almost uncountable
awards and honors include two Guggenheim fellowships, a National Book
Award, and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." "Claiming
an Education" takes a look at the meaning and value of college from
a feminist point of view. It was initially a speech given at Rutgers University's
Douglass College in 1977, first printed in the feminist literary magazine
The Common Woman, and first collected in On Lies, Secrets and
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- What was Rich's original plan for the structure of her speech?
Why did it change?
- According to the author what is "one of the devastating weaknesses
of university learning"?
- Explain the purpose of the lawsuit Alexander v. Yale.
- Paraphrase the quotes by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in paragraph
- Why does the author say that it takes courage for women to be different?
- What are the central elements of the contract between college students
and professors that Rich details?
- Under which historical circumstances did women's studies courses
arise? How did the academic establishment initially react?
STRATEGY AND STYLE
- Examine the use of parentheses in the first paragraph. Since this
was a speech later transcribed, speculate as to how the transcriber
decided to enclose the remark in question using this method. Also, why
is the word might in italics?
- Explain the use of the word claiming in the title of this
piece. How does this usage reflect the author's views of education?
- In terms of rhetorical mode, discuss how this speech can be classified
as either a division/classification speech or a definition speech.
- How did you picture Rich's voice as you read
her essay? What specific cues from the essay helped you form the mental
image you did? (By the way, the first "Biographical" link
below leads you to a page where you can hear this author reading one
of her poems.)
- Describe the irony presented in the titles of the books the author
lists in paragraph four. What is the effect of the number of titles
listed? How might this affect a listening audience differently than
a reading audience?
ENGAGING THE TEXT
- Do you interact differently with female professors than you do
with male professors? Explain. How might your feelings in this regard
have influenced your approach to this reading?
- Imagine yourself as a member of the opposite sex. What ramifications
does this imagining have regarding your self-identity? How can you relate
these ideas to your reading?
SUGGESTIONS FOR SUSTAINED WRITING
- Tape record yourself explaining a simple process: planting a tulip
bulb, finding the price of CD burner online, something like that. Make
sure you cover all necessary steps. Then, take your recording and transcribe
it. What differences about the two forms of communication did you discover
during the writing process?
- Do the disadvantages of single-sex high schools outweigh their
advantages? Using your reading and your high school experience, develop
this question into an essay discussing the relevant pros and cons.
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
Pick one women's studies program at a college in your area. Using information
from your reading as well as outside sources, trace its development from
its inception to the present, concentrating upon things like number of
faculty and students, courses offered, and teaching methodologies. Interviewing
the teachers and students involved is a great idea!
Interested in putting Rich's work into the broader cultural context of
feminist literature? This page
of literary resources about feminism and women's literature will help
you do just that.
Looking for a starting point to research Rich online? Here is Rich's
page at the American Academy of Poets site, where you'll find biographical
information, a photograph, a bibliography, and several Rich related
Would you prefer to start with an online, standalone biography
of Rich? Here's a very good one
from the The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States.
What information does this one include that the one above doesn't? What
accounts for the difference, do you think?
In this in-depth interview
with The Progressive, Rich discusses the state of contemporary
How about listening to some of Rich's work in RealAudio? Here's
a page with
links to Rich doing two readings and engaging in two conversations.
Rich is a strong advocate in promoting gay rights. Does the broad
topic of gay and lesbian issues in the arts sound like something you'd
like to pursue in research paper? Take a look at this Yahoo.com directory
if you'd like a place to get started.
Here's a quiz
from the National Book Foundation celebrating National Book Month that
revolves around Rich's award from that organization. How many other
authors do you recognize on this page? What does this say about the
company Rich is keeping here?
Read this essay
about Rich's work from The Literary Review. After reading the
essay, do you want to pursue more of Rich's writing? If so, what parts
and why? If not, why not?