Back Radio special hosted by Meryl Streep honors women who forever changed American poetry
A Change of World artwork by Nathan Kawanishi. (Courtesy WNYC)

A generation of literary pioneers receive their due in the new radio documentary A Change of World, which came to our attention through a broadcast on New York Public Radio last weekend. Produced by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and narrated by Meryl Streep, the timely and welcome program offers a vivid history of how the second-wave feminist movement of the late 1960s and ’70s electrified and enriched contemporary American poetry.

Poems from the
Women’s Movement

Through the testimony of poets like Joan Larkin, Alicia Ostriker, and Carolyn Forché, the documentary describes the galvanizing effect that Anne Sexton’s debut volume To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) and Sylvia Plath’s posthumously published Ariel (1965) had on a generation of women writers. It acknowledges the contributions of poets of color like Sonia Sanchez and Audre Lorde, and recounts the transformative moment at the 1974 National Book Awards when Adrienne Rich, having won the NBA in Poetry for her collection Diving Into the Wreck, gave her acceptance speech in solidarity with her fellow nominees Lorde and Alice Walker.

A key participant in A Change of World is Library of America Advisor Honor Moore, who edited LOA’s anthology Poems from the Women’s Movement. A Change of World is an excellent complement to the collection, which presents the work of fifty-eight poets united, as Moore writes in her introduction, “by a common need to understand and change not only how women wrote poems, but how they used poems, and how they lived.” Moore’s anthology includes all of the names cited in the documentary, along with June Jordan, Eileen Myles, Sharon Olds, and many more.

A Change of World has recently aired on more than thirty radio stations nationwide. The hour-long program is available for streaming on the WNYC website.

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