Mary Oliver, Acclaimed Lesbian Poet, Dies at 83

Mary Oliver

Poet Mary Oliver, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, has died at the age of 83.

The lesbian writer died of lymphoma today at her home in Florida, NPR reports.

“Oliver won many awards for her poems, which often explore the link between nature and the spiritual world; she also won a legion of loyal readers who found both solace and joy in her work,” the NPR account notes.

She grew up in rural Ohio, in a family where she suffered sexual abuse. She took refuge in long walks and poetry. “The two things I loved from a very early age were the natural world and dead poets, [who] were my pals when I was a kid,” she told NPR in 2012. She considered Walt Whitman the brother she never had, according to the Associated Press.

Her poetry was noted for its simplicity and accessibility. “Poetry, to be understood, must be clear,” she told NPR. “It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now, they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary should not be in the poem.”

She lived for many years in Provincetown, Mass., with photographer Molly Malone Cook, who was described as the love of her life. Cook was a distinguished artist, having been one of the first staff photographers at The Village Voice. Cook also operated the first photography gallery on the East Coast and ran a bookstore in Provincetown, where filmmaker John Waters sometimes worked.

Oliver usually called Cook “M.” in her poems and dedicated many works to her. When Cook died at age 80 in 2005, after the couple had been together more than 40 years, Oliver gathered Cook’s photographs and her own recollections into a book titled Our World. It is “part memoir, part deeply moving eulogy to a departed soul mate, part celebration of their love for one another through their individual creative loves,” according to online journal Brain Pickings.

Oliver won the Pulitzer in 1984 for American Primitive and the National Book Award in 1992 for New and Selected Poems. Her other honors included the Lannan Literary Award, which she received in 1998 for lifetime achievement.

She contemplated mortality in the poem “When Death Comes,” writing, “When it's over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.”

Many readers found her poetry amazing, She had a varied fan following, including fellow poets, filmmakers, and politicians. Those who eulogized her on Twitter included Hillary Clinton and Ava DuVernay.

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