The Muriel Rukeyser Living Archive

As a “Living Archive,” our website is designed to engender lively interdisciplinary conversations about this important twentieth-century poet. We include a rotating number of selected poems by Muriel Rukeyser. Published with permission of Bill Rukeyser, the poet’s son, these offer a representative sample of her voluminous and variegated body of work. The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, edited by Janet Kaufman and Anne Herzog and available from the University of Pittsburgh Press, remains the most comprehensive collection of Rukeyser’s poetry. Please take a minute to acquaint yourself with the site. Also consider contributing responses–critical, pedagogical, or creative–to the website by contacting us here.

Louise Kertesz, Review of Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century, by Rowena Kennedy Epstein, Cornell University Press, 2022

keep the literary scholars out

and stick to the original writing   

                                                –Charles Simic

So was headed the introduction to the Ploughshares anthology American Poetry Now, published in 2007. There’s that familiar sniff of dismissal of the literary scholar’s labors. After all, it’s “the original writing” that readers come for. But the fact is that in recent years, literary scholars dedicatedly mining archives have made discoveries of immense relevance to women poets’ published “original writing,” as well as brought to light much of their original writing we had no idea existed.

Rowena Kennedy-Epstein’s Unfinished Spirit, Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century, is itself a work of bold originality and personal, passionate scholarship. It’s fitting that Rukeyser’s work modeled those qualities when critics were dismissing them as inappropriate, even offensive in a woman writer.  In her acknowledgments, Kennedy-Epstein professes the deep connection she has forged with her subject: “Writing about Rukeyser has helped me think through our political, humanitarian, and environmental crises and to remain, as she models, a ‘vulgar optimist.’” Kennedy-Epstein offers readers a cache of Rukeyser’s original writing, long buried in several archives as a result of the gendered, political, and aesthetic dismissals and rejections of Cold War publishing. Knowledge of those unfinished manuscripts and abandoned projects –and the reasons therefor–is essential to understanding the work of a major poet of the last century, whose influence on generations of feminist and activist poets is continually acknowledged. Rukeyser’s archival writing also provides an invaluable perspective on our times and a guide to moving forward (particularly in our era of revived book banning) with her characteristic belief in possibility, in process and potential.  More



Among all the waste there are the intense stories

and tellers of stories

–Muriel Rukeyser, “Letter to the Front” (1944)

In a letter to Denise Levertov in 1965, Muriel Rukeyser writes, “I feel like being fat is a visible sign of my dark side.” Levertov responds by qualifying, “You actually give the impression of lioness grandeur, of hugeness, but not of ugly fatness.” When I first read this in my early twenties, I was struck by the wicked perniciousness of sexism–that two of the twentieth century’s most exciting and radical women poets would spend time talking about their bodies in such a way deeply depressed me. But of course, now I realize that’s not the only thing they were writing about. They were really writing: What does it mean to be a woman who takes up space–not just physical space but intellectual, verbal, literary, and political space? And what does taking up that space imply about desires, appetites, affiliations, bodily acts, and artistic impulses?

Order Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century from Cornell University Press: Unfinished Spirit by Rowena Kennedy-Epstein | eBook | Cornell University Press.

Rukeyser News

Have a look at the first issue of our brand new RUKEYSER BIANNUAL (NO. 1, WINTER 2024).

The Muriel Rukeyser Era: Selected Prose, edited by Eric Keenaghan and Rowena Kennedy-Epstein, is now available for pre-order from Cornell University Press.  The book makes available for the first time a wide range of Muriel Rukeyser’s prose, a rich and diverse archive of political, social, and aesthetic writings. 

Poet and journalist Dennis Bernstein reinaugurated, after 40 years, the Muriel Rukeyser Hour on Air! Listen to the first installment with poets and Rilke translators Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy here.

Rowena Kennedy-Epstein’s pathbreaking new book, Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century, is now available from Cornell University Press. 

Have a look at the recordings of the Houdini Webinar on March 20, 2022, and two performances of Rukeyser’s play on March 20 and 27. Feel free to leave comments.

In case you missed our February 19-20, 2021 webinar on Rukeyser’s Elegies, you can now access video recordings of keynotes and presentations at Revisiting Muriel Rukeyser’s Elegies in Times Like These.

Also have a look at Dennis Bernstein’s interview with Bill Rukeyser, February 16, 2021.

Muriel Rukeyser: The Contemporary Reviews, 1935-1980 is now available at Washington University Open Scholarship. Vivian Pollak has put together this invaluable resource in collaboration with Washington University’s Digital Commons and Bepress. 

Catherine Gander’s introduction to the Special Issue of Textual Practice centered on Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry can be accessed, free of charge, here.

Muriel Rukeyser’s iconic The Book of the Dead has been published as a free-standing volume from West Virginia University Press. The book, so Bill Rukeyser tells us, gets “as close as possible to realizing the 80-year old vision of both MR and [photographer] Nancy Naumburg that Book of the Dead be published as a photo/poetry work.” The book is beautifully introduced by writer and multi-media producer Catherine Venable Moore.

Our “Living Rukeyser Archive” is entering its eleventh year. We hope you consider joining the growing number of contributors and bloggers, who have enriched this living archive: Our bloggers have included writer and cultural activist Marian Evans, living and working in New Zealand; Catherine Gander, lecturer at Maynooth University, Ireland, and author of Muriel Rukeyser and Documentary: the Poetics of Connection; EMU alumnus Adam Mitts (now a PhD student at SUNY Buffalo); poet and independent scholar Laura Passin; Canadian researcher and sound archivist Katherine McLeod, who produces monthly audio content for SpokenWeb’s ShortCuts as part of The SpokenWeb Podcast feed; multi-media artist Joe Sacksteder, now teaching at Sweet Briar College; and, most recently, Jackie Campbell who is completing her dissertation on Rukeyser at Princeton University. We have published many critical essays, by established and emerging scholars and readers of Rukeyser’s work, among them, more recently, Vivian Pollak, Tim Decelle, Alexandra Swanson, Heather Macpherson, Aaron Pinnix, Trudi Witonsky, Eulàlia Busquets, Eric Keenaghan, Sam Buczkesmith, Modina Jackson, Vered Ornstein, Lily Pratt, Chloe Ross, Joely Byron Fitch, and Louise Kertesz. We’ve been lucky to receive wonderful creative contributions: Stephanie Strickland permitted us to post her poem “Striving All My Life”; Kellie Nadler, Ned Randolph, Victoria Emanuela Pozyczka produced sound remixes of Rukeyser poems. We are always looking for more!