April is National Poetry Month, which was founded by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to honor the art of poetry, and to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in America. This past Monday, Columbia University announced its 97th annual Pulitzer Prize winners in journalism, letters, drama and music. This year the prize for Poetry was awarded to Woman You Should Know, Sharon Olds for Stag’s Leap, a book of poems based on the author’s divorce that examines love, sorrow, memory and new freedom.

Sharon Olds is known for her direct and accessible free verse style and for writing intensely personal poetry about unpoetic life events. She often includes intimate details of her family dynamic, personal relationships, emotional state and sex life in her prose. Critics have called her work “jarring, unexpected and bold”, as well as “self-indulgent, sensationalist and even pornographic”. Because of Olds’s no nonsense approach and style, her work appeals to a wider audience than most, ranking her one of contemporary poetry’s best-selling writers.

Born in 1942 in San Francisco, the author grew up in Berkeley, CA. She was 37 when she published her first collection of poems, Satan Says in 1980, which received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Her following collection, The Dead and the Living, was both the Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983 and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her other collections include: Strike Sparks Selected Poems; The Unswept Room; Blood, Tin, Straw; The Gold Cell; The Wellspring; The Father.

Olds Book Covers
Olds teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University and is one of the founders of NYU’s writing workshops for residents of Goldwater Hospital, and for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Additional honors include a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Ploughshares, and has been anthologized in more than a hundred collections.

About Stag’s Leap

Stag's Leap book coverSharon Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. “Her approach to both pain and love makes this one of the finest, most powerful books of poetry Olds has yet given us”.

“When anyone escapes, my heart
leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from,
I am half on the side of the leaver. It’s so quiet,
and empty, when he’s left. I feel like a landscape,
a ground without a figure.”

Courtesy of Knopf Doubleday

For a full list of Pulitzer Prize winning female poets, click here.