Authors | Information Center | Home
75 Thematic Readings
Henry Louis Gates
George Orwell
Stephen Jay Gould
Margaret Atwood
Russell Baker
Judy Brady
Thomas Jefferson
Judith Ortiz Cofer
Gloria Naylor
Richard Rodriguez
Brent Staples
Shelby Steele
Dave Barry
Frederick Douglass
Benjamin Franklin
Niccolo Machiavelli
Scott Russell Sand...
Bell Hooks
Jamaica Kincaid
Ursula Le Guin
Mike Rose
Edward O. Wilson


Help Center

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

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 Silence.



  1. What was Rich's original plan for the structure of her speech? Why did it change?
  2. According to the author what is "one of the devastating weaknesses of university learning"?
  3. Explain the purpose of the lawsuit Alexander v. Yale.
  4. Paraphrase the quotes by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in paragraph nine.
  5. Why does the author say that it takes courage for women to be different?
  6. What are the central elements of the contract between college students and professors that Rich details?
  7. Under which historical circumstances did women's studies courses arise? How did the academic establishment initially react?


  1. 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?
  2. Explain the use of the word claiming in the title of this piece. How does this usage reflect the author's views of education?
  3. In terms of rhetorical mode, discuss how this speech can be classified as either a division/classification speech or a definition speech.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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?


  1. 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?
  2. 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?


  1. 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?
  2. 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.


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 links.

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 American poetry.

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 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?