Muske-Dukes, Carol 1945- (Carol Ann Muske-Dukes, Carol Anne Muske-Dukes, Carol Muske, Carol Anne Muske)

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Muske-Dukes, Carol 1945- (Carol Ann Muske-Dukes, Carol Anne Muske-Dukes, Carol Muske, Carol Anne Muske)


Born December 17, 1945, in St. Paul, MN; daughter of William Howard (in real estate) and Elizabeth Muske; married Edward Healton (a neurologist; divorced); married David C. Dukes (an actor), January 31, 1983 (died, October 9, 2000); children: (second marriage) Annie Cameron, Shawn (stepchild). Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Creighton University, B.A., 1967; San Francisco State College (now University), M.A., 1970. Hobbies and other interests: Travel.


Office—Department of English, University of Southern California, THH 420, Los Angeles, CA 90089. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, poet, and educator. Free Space (a creative writing program), Women's House of Detention, Riker's Island, NY, founder and director, 1972-73; Art without Walls/Free Space (a writing/art program for women prisoners), New York, NY, director, 1974-82; Columbia University, New York, NY, teacher in graduate writing program, 1979-80; George Washington University, Washington, DC, Jenny McKean Moore lecturer, 1980-81; Iowa Writing Workshop, writing teacher, 1982; University of California, Irvine, writing teacher, 1983; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, lecturer in creative writing, 1985-89, associate professor, 1989-91, professor of English, 1991—, and founder and director of Ph.D. program in literature and creative writing. Also instructor at New School for Social Research and University of Virginia. Lecturer to women's groups; has given poetry readings around the country, as well as on radio and television.


Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Poets and Writers, Poetry Society of America (former member, board of governors), PEN, National Writers Union, National Organization for Women, Los Angeles Library Association (member of board of advisors).


Dylan Thomas Poetry Award, New School for Social Research, 1973; Pushcart Prizes, 1978, 1988-89, 1992-93, 1998, 1999-2000; Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, Poetry Society of America, 1979; Witter Bynner award, Library of Congress, 1998; fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, 1981, National Endowment for the Arts, 1984, and Ingram Merrill Foundation, 1988; National Book Award nomination, 2003, for Sparrow.



Camouflage, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1975.

Skylight, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.

Wyndmere, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1985.

Applause, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1989.

Red Trousseau, Viking/Penguin (New York, NY), 1993.

An Octave above Thunder: New and Selected Poems, Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.


Dear Digby (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1989.

Saving St. Germ (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

Women and Poetry: Truth, Autobiography, and the Shape of the Self (criticism), University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1997.

Life after Death (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2001.

Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood (essays), Random House (New York, NY), 2002.

Sparrow: Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

(Selector) Simone Muench, Lampblack & Ash, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2005.

Channeling Mark Twain: A Novel, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.


Contributor to anthologies, including Eating the Menu, edited by B.E. Taylor, W.C. Brown, 1974; The American Poetry Anthology, edited by Daniel Halpern, Avon, 1975; The Pushcart Prize Anthology; Poet's Choice; Best American Poems; 100 Great Poems by Women; The Eye of the Poet; and Woman Poet. Regular critic for New York Times Book Review and Los Angeles Times Book Review; regular poetry columnist for the Los Angeles Times Book Review and Poets' Corner. Contributor to periodicals, including Ms., Oui, New Yorker, Field, Esquire, American Poetry Review, New York Times, Yale Review, and Village Voice. Assistant editor of Antaeus, 1972—.


The novel Dear Digby was optioned by Orion Pictures for a feature film; Saving St. Germ was optioned for film by actress Julia Ormond, 1997.


Carol Muske-Dukes, who has published poetry under the name Carol Muske, has developed a reputation as a careful writer who balances rhetorical precision with a unique manner of relating personal experience. A contributor to Contemporary Women Poets noted of Muske-Dukes's verse that, "while well-anchored in daily life, [it] moves far beyond to become a meditation on philosophical concerns like the nature of time and the value of life. This carefully achieved scope contributes much of what is powerful and persuasive in her work." In addition to her poetry, Muske-Dukes is the author of novels, including Dear Digby, Saving St. Germ, Life after Death, and Channeling Mark Twain: A Novel, as well as a volume of essays, Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood.

Camouflage, Muske-Dukes's first book-length collection of verse, shows the influence of such American poets as Gertrude Stein. Muske-Dukes's subsequent collections further developed her own style. In a critique of 1989's Applause, New York Times Book Review contributor Wayne Koestenbaum was impressed with Muske-Dukes's method of identification, noting that "she reaches past anecdote." Although Koestenbaum suggested that her wordage gives "too little tonal pleasure," he admitted that Muske-Dukes "tempers glib candor with a recognition that language is inevitably impeded and enriched by all that resists easy saying."

In Red Trousseau, published in 1993, the color red and what it represents serve as the theme weaving throughout the collection: from the red of fire and anger to that of blood, sexual passion, and robust good health. An Octave above Thunder: New and Selected Poems provides an overview of Muske-Dukes's work, revealing what Library Journal contributor Fred Muratori called "an expanding poetic consciousness, from 1970s Surrealism Lite … through feminism and political awareness, … to self-analysis and ambitious meditation."

Muske-Dukes published her first story at age eleven and had begun writing poetry at an even earlier age. "But I was fairly unconscious about the power of words and what it meant to have the power to use them until I came to New York in 1971," she once explained to CA. After becoming involved in several writing workshops, including the Free Space writing program that she founded at the women's prison on Riker's Island in 1972, she "began to hear the dialogue between craft and sentiment, form and feeling." Still she considers herself to be primarily a visual poet, noting to CA that "images come … easily to me, imagistic phrases litter my poems. I feel very close to painters, our processes are similar."

The difference between "seeing" and "hearing" her writing is one of the distinctions Muske-Dukes finds between her poetry and her prose. She once told CA: "The problem for me is ‘hearing’ what I write—that's why it was so refreshing for me to write [my first novel]. I found a voice, I trusted it, I let it speak. Beyond time and how time happens in a poem or a story, the relationship between eye and ear forms the difference for me between poetry and prose. In prose, the reader listens, the reader is being told a story, she hears, then sees—in poems, the reader sees aurally, the eye and ear become one."

In her first published departure from poetry, the 1989 novel Dear Digby, Muske-Dukes examines sexual politics, voyeurism, and neurosis through the cynical eyes of Willis Jane Digby, an editor of reader mail to the feminist magazine SIS. Muske-Dukes had intended to write the book in collaboration with a friend who held that job at Ms. magazine, but her friend abandoned the project and Muske-Dukes completed it on her own. "The social satire gets diluted by some of the more difficult aspects of the plot," claimed Stephen McCauley in a review of the novel for the New York Times Book Review. The critic insisted, however, that Muske-Dukes "has written a novel full of sharp insights and surprising images." McCauley added: "She is particularly good at writing amusing hit-and-run portraits." In an appraisal of Dear Digby for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, a contributor called the author "a fine stylist. Her sculpted images and energetic prose make her storytelling vivid and compelling." Carolyn Banks wrote in the Washington Post: "The book has to be sandblasted out of your hands."

With the same precision with which she composes her poetry, Muske-Dukes extracts real meaning from the images created by the words in each of her novels, and her wide variety of subjects demonstrate her broad learning. Reviewing Saving St. Germ, the author's 1993 work of fiction, Tom De Haven commented in the New York Times Book Review that Muske-Dukes has created a protagonist "as likeable as she is off-putting, with habits, quirks and observations that startle you with their strangeness but always feel true." In her exploration of the world of a university biochemist hired to "do something flashy, fund-attracting" in contrast with her natural impulse to put on a white lab coat and putter about in the lab unbothered, Muske-Dukes created what De Haven called "a truly original work of fiction, something fresh—the exploration of a subculture that's baffling, often intimidating, to most of us, and usually ignored by American literary novelists." A reviewer for the New Yorker commented: "It does just what art is supposed to do—it makes the world new."

In Muske-Dukes's third novel, Life after Death, Boyd Schaeffer's husband suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving Boyd to contend with her grief and guilt, as well as her inability to make her daughter understand the reality of death. "Boyd is not what one would call a likeable character—she's confrontational, stubborn, and irascible," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, "but it's hard not to be won over by her." Boyd's life becomes intertwined with that of another mourner, funeral director Will Youngren, who is still coping with the death of his twin sister years ago in a sledding accident. "It is an emotional tale: part mystery, part meditation on grief, recovery, and relationships," wrote Bettijane Levine in the Los Angeles Times.

Muske-Dukes's 2002 collection of essays titled Married to the Icepick Killer was published to favorable reviews. For example, Pam Kingsbury, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author's "insights are acutely observed and often devastatingly funny." Writing in Back Stage West, Rob Kendt commented that "among Muske-Dukes's central subjects is the alienated, atomized cultural landscape of this spread-out, seemingly history-less industry town—a place where the popular images of the culture are created, while alternative images speak uncertainly, if at all." Among the book's essays are ruminations on the differences in tackling a subject via film versus poetry, the relationship between creativity and celebrity, conflict between mass media and the vision of an individual artist, and Californians' obsession with real estate. Although most of the essays were written before the death of her husband, the actor David Dukes, in October of 2000, the book does include three essays about her late husband. "Married to the Icepick Killer is as fine a celebration of the stubborn persistence of the artist's temperament in a media age as you're likely to find," wrote Kendt. In a review in Booklist, Donna Seaman commented that the author "turns out to be a piquant essayist."

Muske-Dukes returned to poetry with her 2003 collection Sparrow: Poems, which was nominated for a National Book Award. In these poems, the author fondly recalls life with her late husband over nearly two decades and her life following his death. For example, in "Ovation," she compares her late husband's career as an actor with her stepping into a new mournful but stoic stage of life after his death, writing: "I try to make myself afraid, / the way you must have been afraid, / stepping out onto this stage / but with a fear so pure, so / perfectly informed that you strode / out shouting." "One might easily view the entire volume of poems as one gargantuan elegy for her late husband," wrote Ace Boggess for the Airondac Review. "The poems here touch on his sickness and passing, but also on his life, and her life with him." "This volume highlights the paradox of poetry as a nexus of death and beauty, the life of elegy tied to the end of life," wrote Jack Hughes in a review of Sparrow for MiPoesias. "Muske-Dukes successfully resists the pull of uncontrolled horror and pity in the face of the worst sort of loss, and one closes this book not just with a sense of pathos, but also with a sense of the strange, continuing hopefulness of poetry." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "The best poems capture the darkly ambiguous ruminations of a partner left behind." Other reviewers also had high praise for the volume of poems. Ken Tucker, writing in the New York Times Book Review, referred to the poems in Sparrow as "at once extravagantly emotional in content and tightly controlled as verse."

Channeling Mark Twain "evokes the politically charged and substance-mediated early '70s in near hallucinatory detail," according to Los Angeles magazine contributor Ariel Swartley. Muske-Dukes's novel takes place in New York City and focuses on poet Holly Mattox, a pretty newlywed who conducts jailhouse poetry workshops for female inmates at Riker's Island. Wanting to do her part to change the world, Holly sets out not only to teach the inmates about the beauty and power of poetry but to also win their confidence. In the process, Holly discovers that the tough, street-smart inmates also have a lot to teach her. In fact, Muske-Dukes herself taught in a women's prison, and several reviewers noted that the novel likely draws on her own experiences. For example, T.L. Khanh wrote in WWD: "What makes Muske-Dukes's writing so zesty is that many of the characters and scenes in her fourth novel are based—albeit with a heavy dose of fiction—on people she knew and her own experiences dating back nearly four decades."

Among the inmates encountered by the novel's protagonist are the black radical Akilah Malik, who may or may not have shot a policeman, and the mystical Polly Lyle Clement, who says she is the great-granddaughter of Mark Twain and claims that the great novelist communicates through her. As the story progresses, Holly has an affair with another writer that threatens her marriage and soon finds herself requested by prison officials to get information out of Polly about another inmate's jailbreak. Another essential aspect of the tale is Holly's own struggles with a literary life marked by inner and outer struggles as well as encounters with socialites and others who claim to love artists and their works but who, in most cases, understand neither. In addition, prisoners tell their own stories through various prisoners' poems that reveal their inner lives. "Fiction with a political conscience often sacrifices craft in favor of … message, but Muske-Dukes pulls it off," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor of Channeling Mark Twain. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted: "Though well-plotted, Muske-Dukes' triumph lies in building a discourse on the nature of language, of poetry, of its small successes and inevitable limitations in the midst of ruinous lives."

"My primary motivation for writing is to keep myself sane," Muske-Dukes once told CA. "My reading influences my work. Family life influences my work. I don't watch TV or read newspapers regularly, but I swallow maybe three books (poetry, novels, nonfiction) per week, along with articles, criticism, etc.

"My writing process is completely random. I write whenever and wherever I can: stopped at red lights, in doctors' waiting rooms, at my computer, at 2:30 a.m. in or out of bed. I write constantly in my head. As many writers have said before me, I didn't choose my subjects, they chose me. I was ‘given" a set of themes early in life and they've obsessed me and continue to do so." Her advice to aspiring writers: "to read—and beyond that, don't take any advice. Especially from writers, they all lie."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 90, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Modern American Women Poets, Dodd (New York, NY), 1984.

Muske-Dukes, Carol, Sparrow: Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.


Back Stage West, September 26, 2002, Rob Kendt, "Marriage of True Minds: In Her New Collection, Carol Muske-Dukes Remembers Her Husband's Artistry—and Wonders If Hollywood and Poets Can Rhyme," p. 9.

Booklist, May 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Life after Death, p. 1735; August 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood, p. 1911; May 15, 2007, Donna Seman, review of Channeling Mark Twain: A Novel, p. 20.

Books, July 21, 2007, Maud Lavin, "Poetry behind Bars: Carol Muske-Dukes' New Novel Tells of a Teacher's Experiences at a Women's Prison," review of Channeling Mark Twain, p. 5.

Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 2003, review of Sparrow: Poems, p. 17.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of Married to the Icepick Killer, p. 790; June 1, 2007, review of Channeling Mark Twain.

Library Journal, October 1, 1997, Fred Murator, review of An Octave above Thunder: New and Selected Poems, p. 86; June 1, 2001, Robin Nesbitt, review of Life after Death, p. 218; July, 2002, Pam Kingsbury, review of Married to the Icepick Killer, p. 80; July 1, 2007, Starr E. Smith, review of Channeling Mark Twain, p. 83.

Los Angeles, September, 2007, Mariel Swartley, "Down the River: In Carol Muske-Dukes's Channeling Mark Twain, Revelation Comes One Word Choice at a Time," p. 88.

Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1989 review of Dear Digby, p. 3; September 15, 1991, review of Dear Digby, p. 10; July 31, 2001, Bettijane Levine, "A Harsh, Swift Clarity," p. E1; December 15, 2002, Thea Klapwald, review of Married to the Icepick Killer, p. 12.

New Yorker, April 26, 1993, review of Saving St. Germ, p. 119.

New York Times Book Review, April 16, 1989, Stephen McCauley, review of Dear Digby, p. 13; September 24, 1989, Wayne Koestenbaum, review of Applause, pp. 50-51; April 11, 1993, Tom DeHaven, review of Saving St. Germ, p. 18; June 17, 2001, Kathryn Harrison, "No Sooner Said," p. 30; September 22, 2002, Diane Scharper, review of Married to the Icepick Killer, p. 25; July 6, 2003, Ken Tucker, review of Sparrow, p. 20.

People, August 13, 2001, Lan N. Nguyen, review of Life after Death, p. 45.

Poetry, December, 1985, Sandra M. Gilbert, review of Wyndmere, pp. 163-164; April, 1994, Sandra Gilbert, review of Red Trousseau, pp. 39-53.

Publishers Weekly, April 23, 2001, review of Life after Death, p. 48; June 18, 2001, Roger Gathman, "Carol Muske-Dukes: The Cruel Poetries of Life," p. 52; June 3, 2002, review of Married to the Icepick Killer, p. 75; June 23, 2003, review of Sparrow, p. 61; April 30, 2007, review of Channeling Mark Twain, p. 135.

Washington Post, April 24, 1989, Carolyn Banks, review of Dear Digby, p. B3.

World Literature Today, September 1, 2004, Fred L. Dings, review of Sparrow, p. 101.

Writer's Digest, February, 1996, Michael Bugeja, "Modernism, Revisited: Two Acclaimed Poets Discuss the Influences behind Their Work and Introduce Important Concepts that Still Apply," p. 12.

WWD, May 21, 2007, T.L. Khanh, "True Grit; Carol Muske-Dukes' New Novel Goes behind Bars," review of Channeling Mark Twain, p. 57.


Academy of American Poets Web site, (April 3, 2002), profile of Muske-Dukes.

Adirondack Review, (May 15, 2003), Ace Boggess, review of Sparrow.

Carol Muske-Dukes's Home Page, (March 5, 2008).

MiPoesias, (January-March, 2004), Jack Hughes, "Tres Jack Reviews" review of Sparrow.

Poetry Society of America, (May 25, 2002), Carol Muske-Dukes, "What Is American about American Poetry?"

Talent Development Resources, (May 25, 2002), Douglas Eby, interview with Carol Muske-Dukes.

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Muske-Dukes, Carol 1945- (Carol Ann Muske-Dukes, Carol Anne Muske-Dukes, Carol Muske, Carol Anne Muske)

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