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Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) on Art an Justice

March 30, 2012

We cannot say that we are very familiar with the work of the late poet Adrienne Rich, but a recent profile of her that highlights not only her accomplishments as a poet, but her passionate commitment to defending the full dignity and justice for women, gays and lesbians, racial minorities, and the poor, convinces us that we should read her works more deeply.

In particular, we were moved by the vision for art that she expressed in her courageous refusal to accept the National Medal for the Arts award for the Arts from the Clinton White House in 1997:

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art–in my own case the art of poetry–means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.

— Adrienne Rich, Letter Refusing the National Medal for the Arts, 1997

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