A private person by nature, Mary Oliver has given very few interviews over the years. Instead, she prefers to let her work speak for itself. And speak it has, for the past five decades, to countless readers. The New York Times recently acknowledged Mary Oliver as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” Born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems, originally printed in the UK by Dent Press, was reissued in the United States in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin. Oliver has since published many works of poetry and prose (the complete list appears below).
As a young woman, Oliver studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, but took no degree. She lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state, companion to the poet’s sister Norma Millay. It was there, in the late ’50s, that she met photographer Molly Malone Cook. For more than forty years, Cook and Oliver made their home together, largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook’s death in 2005.
Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence.
Oliver’s essays have appeared in Best American Essays 1996, 1998, 2001; the Anchor Essay Annual 1998, as well as Orion, Onearth and other periodicals. Oliver was editor of Best American Essays 2009.
Oliver’s books on the craft of poetry, A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance, are used widely in writing programs. She is an acclaimed reader and has read in practically every state as well as other countries. She has led workshops at various colleges and universities, and held residencies at Case Western Reserve University, Bucknell University, University of Cincinnati, and Sweet Briar College. From 1995, for five years, she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College. She has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from The Art Institute of Boston (1998), Dartmouth College (2007) and Tufts University (2008). Oliver currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the inspiration for much of her work.
No Voyage and Other Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1965)
The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (Harcourt Brace, 1972)
Twelve Moons (Little, Brown, 1979)
American Primitive (Little, Brown, 1983)
Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)
House of Light (Beacon Press, 1990)
New and Selected Poems, Volume One (Beacon Press, 1992)
White Pine (Harcourt Brace, 1994)
West Wind (Houghton Mifflin,1997)
The Leaf and the Cloud (Da Capo, 2000)
What Do We Know (Da Capo, 2002)
Owls and Other Fantasies (Beacon Press, 2003)
Why I Wake Early (Beacon Press, 2004)
Blue Iris (Beacon Press, 2004)
Wild Geese (Bloodaxe, 2004) (UK)
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two (Beacon Press, 2005)
Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006)
Red Bird (Beacon Press, 2008)
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (Beacon Press, 2008)
Evidence (Beacon Press, 2009)
Swan (Beacon Press, 2010)
The Night Traveler (Bits Press, 1978)
Sleeping in the Forest (Ohio Review, 1978)
Provincetown (Bucknell University Press, 1980)
A Poetry Handbook (Harcourt Brace, 1994)
Blue Pastures (Harcourt Brace, 1995)
Rules for the Dance (Houghton Mifflin, 1998)
Winter Hours (Houghton Mifflin, 1999)
Long Life (Da Capo, 2004)
Our World, with photographs by Molly Malone Cook (Beacon Press, 2007)
“One of the astonishing aspects of Oliver’s work is the consistency of tone over this long period [of her career]. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets . . . There is no complaint in Ms. Oliver’s poetry, no whining, but neither is there the sense that life is in any way easy . . . These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.”
—Stephen Dobyns, New York Times Book Review