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10 Brilliant Female Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poets of the last Century

Announced each April, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry is one of the most prestigious awards in American literature. The prize, worth $15,000, is awarded to authors who produce “a distinguished volume of original verse,” according to the organization. 

These 10 female Pulitzer Prize winners have made waves in American Literature. By connecting to their readers in their own unique ways, their collections have stood the test of time and landed them among the most highly esteemed poets of the century. 

 

Love Songs by Sara Teasdale (1918)

While the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry wasn’t officially established until 1922, Love Songs was awarded The Columbia University Poetry Prize. The prize was officially named after newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer just a few years later. 

Simple, clear, warm, and melancholic, Teasdale blazed the trails for future poets with her 1918 collection Love Songs. Each poem drips with passionate imagery as she untangles both the beauty and pain in love.

 

What’s O’Clock by Amy Lowell (1926)

Lowell was a major figure in the imagist movement, and it shows. With a focus on simplicity, clarity, and precision through the use of visual images, Lowell drove the movement forward with her determined personality and sense of humor. What’s O’Clock was edited posthumously by Lowell’s longtime partner Ada Dwyer Russell. It earned the Pulitzer prize just one year after Lowell’s death.

 

Bright Ambush by Audrey Wurdemann (1935)

With Bright Ambush, Wudremann became the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Though she never attended grammar school, she entered high school at age 11. At just 24, she managed to describe loss, anger, and human connection in a visceral, intentional, and powerful style. 

 

Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks (1950)

Brooks was the first African American to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize. Her collection Annie Allen is a three-part story about a girl named Annie growing into womanhood. Brooks weaves a complex and lyrical story of self-actualization together with her quick wit and fluid rhythm. 

 

Live or Die by Anne Sexton (1967)

This collection of free-verse poetry explores Sexton’s relationships with her mother and her daughters and her treatment for mental illness. Her willingness to grapple with intimate subjects like motherhood and menstruation in candid detail grants readers the full experience of being alive in each poem. Emotionally raw and deeply resonant, Sexton’s style lands her among the great confessionalist poets like Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. 

 

Up Country by Maxine Kumin (1973)

A new England poet through-and-through, Kuman’s poetry dives into the deep woods and country living of the upper east coast. With imagery as clear as day, Up Country allows readers to connect with New England nature and the everyday dealings of living in the region. 

 

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath (1982)

Edited and introduced by Ted Hughes, The Collected Poems contains all of Plath’s mature poetry from 1956 to 1963 plus 50 poems from her pre-1956 work. Astute, ironic, and intense, Plath has been a source of inspiration not just for poets, but also for the feminist movement. 

 

Yin by Carolyn Kizer (1985)

Imaginative, moving, and frankly funny, Kizer’s gripping poetry addresses a range of topics with a sharp wit and sense of humor. To the Poetry Society of America, she admitted, “I have continued to prefer, and write, poems that have what you might call ‘a sting in the tail.’” 

 

Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove (1987)

This highly regarded book of poems tells the semi-fictionalized story of Dove’s paternal grandparents. Dove is known for her lyrical writing style and sense of history, infusing both fact and fiction with deep emotion and personal touch. 

 

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (2012)

The Pultizer Prize board of 2012 called Life on Mars “A collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.” Smith blends pop culture, history, anecdote, and political commentary throughout this collection to paint a divinely odd picture of contemporary living. 

Over the last hundred years, these 10 winners have played influential roles in American literature. From complex lyrical forms to contemporary free verse, their awarded collections are now utterly unforgettable.