Rich, Susan 1959–

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Rich, Susan 1959–

(Susan Beth Rich)


Born July 19, 1959, in Boston, MA; daughter of Abraham and Lillian R. Morris. Education: Attended Lancaster University, 1979-1980; University of Massachusetts, B.A., 1983; attended Harvard University, 1988.


Home—Seattle, WA. E-mail—[email protected].


Amnesty International, Somerville, MA, program coordinator, 1989; Oxfam America, Boston, MA, policy assistant, 1988; Harvard Institute for Development, Cambridge, MA, research assistant, 1987; Boston Center for Adult Education, program administrator, 1986-87; U.S. Peace Corps, Niger, West Africa, high school teacher 1984-86; Highline Community College, Des Moines, WA, faculty member; Antioch University M.F.A. Program, Los Angeles, CA, faculty member. Floating Bridge Press, editor. Has worked as a human rights worker in Bosnia, Haiti, Gaza City, and other regions.


Somali Rights Network.


Rella Lossy Award; New Voices Poetry Award; Sojourner Poetry Award; Glimmer Train Poetry Award; William Stafford Award/Washington State Poets Association; Fulbright fellowship; Roben Rose award; PEN USA Poetry Award, and Peace Corps Writers Poetry Award, both 2000, for The Cartographer's Tongue: Poems of the World.


Africa South of the Sahara, Raintree Steck-Vaughn (Austin, TX), 2000.

The Cartographer's Tongue: Poems of the World, White Pine Press (Buffalo, NY), 2000.

Cures Include Travel: Poems, White Pine Press (Buffalo, NY), 2006.

Contributor of poems to journals, including Christian Science Monitor, DoubleTake, Harvard Magazine, Massachusetts Review, Mercator's World, New Contrast—South Africa, Poet Lore, Prism International, Southern Poetry Review, and Witness. Work has appeared in anthologies, including Best Essays of the Northwest, O Taste and See: Food Poems, South African Poets on Poetry 1992-2001, Literary Lunch, To Touch the World: the Peace Corps Experience, and Voices from the Field: Peace Corps Worldwise Schools.


In her poetry, Susan Rich often draws on her experiences working in troubled regions of the world. She has taught high school as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa, and has visited countries ravaged by violence and injustice, including Bosnia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, as well as Gaza City. Rich's awareness of the brutal consequences of war, poverty, and oppression inform her work with a seriousness and sensitivity that has impressed critics and has earned her numerous awards.

In The Cartographer's Tongue: Poems of the World, Rich "bring[s] back a truth we are unlikely to encounter anywhere else," wrote Louis McKee in Library Journal. The poems in this collection are set in a wide range of places, including Dublin's Jewish Museum, Niger, and Haiti, and often feature people scarred by horrific violence. In "Haiti," for example, Rich describes a girl awakening early on the beautiful morning that is her sixteenth birthday, only to find on her doorstep "a gift from the Ton Ton Macoute [the Duvalier regime's secret police]": her father's body, with "A note pinned to his collar like a caption / she writes for her scrapbook" and "the soles of the feet burnt, / the lips one long purple bruise. / This family had 24 hours to leave." The poem, Rich told Elizabeth Glixman in Eclectica, is based on the true story of a woman she had met as a human rights worker. Commenting on the narrative qualities of this poem, and others, Rich noted that "one of the things that I love about poetry and which I don't find true in my prose writing, is that poetry strips down language to the image and the music of what I want to say. It keeps one honest in a way that prose writers don't need to be or can't be…. So perhaps poems can evoke story even better than a story can."

Explaining her choice of title to Glixman, Rich said that "a cartographer does work with spatial relationships but also has to make choices as to what to leave off of the map, what to emphasize, and which lines need to be [something] other than true. In cartography, there is a desire for objectivity as well as a striving for it, while all the time knowing that it's an impossibility." Writing poems, she explained, is similar; the poet must listen carefully, and spend time thinking, feeling, and shaping, before being satisfied that his or her poem is complete. "I wanted to give the cartographer a voice, a tool that wasn't in her cartographer's toolbox," she added. "The juxtaposition of the scientific and the sensual appealed to me, but I also wanted the unexpected point of view; we don't expect a cartographer to use her tongue or to speak at all, so what would the world be like if she did?"

On her home page, Rich observes that travel can heighten awareness in ways that are conducive to creative expression. "The daily accidents that bring the poet, the traveler, into unexplored territory may offer new experiences that knock us off balance, literally and figuratively so that we no longer know who we are or where we stand," she comments. "The poet-traveler rearranges the geological terrain with her own nomadic coordinates. Who could ask for more?" She writes, Rich told Glixman, because poetry has power to change people's sense of the world. "I think that poetry does make a difference," said Rich. "I think it can imprint on the human soul—why else write poetry at all?



Rich, Susan, The Cartographer's Tongue: Poems of the World, White Pine Press (Buffalo, NY), 2000.


Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Louis McKee, "Cures Include Travel," p. 94.

School Library Journal, January 1, 2000, Rosie Peasley, review of Africa South of the Sahara, p. 144.


Caffeine Destiny, (April 17, 2008), author profile.

Eclectica Magazine, (April 17, 2008), Elizabeth Glixman, author interview.

Poetry, (April 17, 2008), author profile.

Susan Rich Home Page, (April 18, 2008).

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Rich, Susan 1959–

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