Marge Piercy Papers, 1958-2004 (majority within 1966-2003)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research. Restricted Material: Access to a small portion of original materials in the Piercy papers has been restricted due to preservation concerns. In all cases,...
- Piercy, Marge
- Marge Piercy is an internationally recognized feminist poet and writer. A University of Michigan alumna, Piercy is the author of over thirty published works and a contributor to numerous journals and anthologies. The collection documents Piercy’s work as a writer, through manuscripts, literary correspondence, printed ephemera, videotapes, and audio material, as well as a small number of photographs and personal artifacts. Also present are works of others based on or relating to Piercy’s writings. The bulk of the collection is comprised of thirty-four feet of manuscripts and nine feet of correspondence.
54 boxes, 8 oversize boxes, and 3 portfolios (approximately 54 linear feet)
Photographs are found in box 49 and oversize box 4.
Artwork in box 35, oversize box 7, and portfolio 3. Videotapes in box 54. (DVD copies are available.)
Audio material is in boxes 50-53.
Printed material is in boxes 46 and 47. Published books and serials have been cataloged separately.
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Rebecca Bizonet
- Scope and Content:
The Marge Piercy Papers were deposited with the Special Collections Library by the author in 1987. Since then, she has continued to make frequent additions to the collection. The collection offers insight into Piercy’s literary career from the late 1950s through the present, primarily by way of manuscripts of nearly all of her works, present in early drafts through to production stages. Audiovisual material, photographs, artifacts, and artworks supplement the picture.
Besides documenting the professional life of one of America’s leading feminist writers and activists, the collection offers a glimpse at the literary magazine publishing scene of the 1960s and following, particularly the feminist presses and magazines (such as CALYX and 13th Moon) which Piercy wrote for and championed. Correspondence with other poets and writers, as well as to fans, reveals Piercy’s development as a writer, her views on important issues, and her influence on others. The collection also steps beyond the literary world (mainly through correspondence) to show Piercy’s collaborations with and support of artists, musicians, and activists (especially women in these fields)--thus reinforcing the fundamental connection for Piercy between her writing and all other aspects of her life.
With roughly fifty-four linear feet of materials, the Marge Piercy papers are divided into eight series: Writings; Correspondence; Other Activities; Personal; Ephemera; Works by Others; Photographs and Negatives; and Audiovisual. Researchers should note that books and serial publications by or from Piercy have been separated from the collection and cataloged individually.
- Biographical / Historical:
Piercy was born March 31, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan, to parents Bert Bernice Bunnin Piercy and Robert Douglas Piercy. She had one sibling, a half-brother Grant Courtade, many years her senior. Piercy grew up in a working-class neighborhood which held a mix of Irish, Polish, and African Americans. Her father, who worked installing and repairing machinery for Westinghouse, was of Welsh ancestry and from a Presbyterian background. Her mother was Jewish, of Lithuanian and Russian ancestry. Piercy’s maternal grandmother, Hannah Levy Bunnin Adler, was the daughter of a rabbi. (Piercy’s grandfather Bunnin, a Russian Jew, had been a union organizer, murdered for his organizing activities.) Both Piercy’s mother and her grandmother brought her up in the Jewish faith.
According to Piercy, her true life as a writer and poet began at the age of fifteen. Prior to this point, she had always been a voracious reader--earlier childhood illnesses had weakened her physically and caused her to seek refuge in books. Moreover, her mother was a major influence, with her questioning spirit, creativity, and storytelling abilities, and the encouragement of these same qualities in her daughter. Piercy’s fifteenth year, however, saw profound changes in her life--notably a string of tragedies including the death of her grandmother from stomach cancer, the loss of a best friend to a drug overdose, and the poisoning of a beloved cat. (Piercy has always had a strong love of cats.) As a result, she withdrew from earlier gang activity and sexually adventurous behavior, turning an intense focus instead on writing.
After attending public schools in Detroit, Piercy won a scholarship to the University of Michigan. The first person in her family to attend college, she was awarded her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1957. While there, she won major and minor Hopwood Awards in poetry and fiction. Piercy remembers the academic side of college coming easily to her; more difficult was the social sphere, since she did not conform to the ideals for women expected at that time and place. She continued her schooling with a fellowship at Northwestern University, receiving an M.A. in 1958.
While completing her studies at Northwestern, Piercy married French-Jewish physicist Michel Schiff. They spent time in France and Chicago. Their marriage soon ended in divorce, owing mainly to conflicts between Piercy’s progressive views (and her continued dedication to writing) and Schiff’s conventional attitudes towards marriage and the role of women.
After the breakup of her first marriage, Piercy stayed in Chicago, where she supported herself at various low-paying jobs. Although she continued to write steadily, she was unable to get any of her novels published until Going Down Fast (1969), which featured a man as one of its central characters. Her first book of poetry, Breaking Camp, came in 1968.
In 1962 Piercy married again to computer scientist Robert Shapiro. Theirs was an open marriage, with others at times living with them. The two moved frequently, dividing their time between the East Coast and the West Coast and pouring much of their energies into the work of the New Left. Piercy was especially active with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and also a founder of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). In 1965 the two moved to New York, where Piercy kept up her work with the SDS. Growing increasingly disillusioned with the male-dominated New Left, Piercy began to focus on the growing women’s movement and to devote more of her time to writing. Eventually, tensions within the anti-Establishment community and Piercy’s own declining health caused the couple to leave the city in 1971.
Piercy and Shapiro moved to Cape Cod, where she has lived ever since. Life amidst more natural surroundings proved beneficial to Piercy’s physical health and influenced her writing as well. During this time she created one of her most important early poetic works, the sequence of tarot-related poems Laying Down the Tower. She became further involved in women’s rights and consciousness-raising groups. She also developed an intense connection to the land and the garden. Over time, Piercy and Shapiro’s marriage broke down, and the two divorced in 1980.
Other works during this time period include the novels Small Changes (1973), Vida (1980), and the semi-autobiographical Braided Lives (1982), all of which did much to raise feminist consciousness among her readers. The science fiction novel Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), about an institutionalized woman faced with two alternate versions of the future, is still taught in many women’s studies courses.
In 1982 Piercy married author Ira Wood, whom she had known previously, having written a play, The Last White Class, with him in 1979. They have since collaborated on other works, including the novel Storm Tide (1998) and a writer’s guide. In 1997 they founded their own small publishing firm, Leapfrog Press; they also teach writer’s workshops together.
Beginning in the 1980s Piercy and Wood became active in Jewish renewal. Piercy entered the movement in part to cope with the loss of her mother in 1981 and to reconnect with her spiritual and cultural roots. She has continued to explore ways of embracing both her Judaism and her feminist beliefs.
Major works in the 1980s and 1990s have included the sweeping historical novels Gone to Soldiers (1988) and City of Darkness, City of Light (1996), both told from her distinctive multi-character point of view and feminist perspective. (And both the result of her meticulous research process.) In 1993 her science fiction novel He, She, and It was bestowed the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her many collections of poetry have garnered accolades from readers, critics, and fellow writers. From her home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, Marge Piercy continues to write both poetry and fiction. She also maintains a brisk schedule of readings and workshops, and remains an active force in Jewish renewal, the women’s movement, and other social and political issues.Sources
- "Marge Piercy." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 227: American Novelists Since World War II, Sixth Series . 2000. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group Databases. University of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor, MI. 10 April 2003 http://www.infotrac.galegroup.com.
- "Marge Piercy." Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume 120: American Poets Since World War II, Third Series. 1992. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group Databases. University of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor, MI. 10 April 2003 http://www.infotrac.galegroup.com.
- Piercy, Marge. Sleeping with Cats: A Memoir. New York: William Morrow, 2002.
- Marge Piercy Homepage. Middlemarsh, Inc. 15 December 2003 [accessed] http://www.archer-books.com/Piercy/.
- Acquisition Information:
- The collection was deposited with the library by Marge Piercy beginning in 1987. Additions are anticipated.
- Processing information:
Collection processed and finding aid created by Rebecca Bizonet.
The Marge Piercy Papers are divided into eight series: Writings; Correspondence; Other Activities; Personal; Ephemera; Works by Others; Photographs and Negatives; and Audiovisual.Summary Contents List:
- Poetry -- Boxes 1-6, oversize boxes 1 and 8
- Novels -- Boxes 7-31
- Short Stories -- Box 32
- Plays -- Boxes 32-33, oversize box 6
- Essays and Non-fiction -- Boxes 33-34
- Topical File -- Boxes 35-41
- Name File -- Boxes 42-43
- General Correspondence -- Box 43
- Other Activities -- Box 44
- Personal -- Boxes 44-45
- Ephemera -- Boxes 46-48, oversize boxes 4-6, portfolios 1 and 2
- Works by Others -- Box 48, oversize box 7, porfolio 3
- Photographs and Negatives -- Box 49, oversize box 4
- Sound Recordings -- Boxes 50-53
- Video Recordings -- Box 54
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
American poetry -- 20th century.
Authors and publishers -- United States -- 20thcentury.
Feminism and literature.
Jewish renewal -- United States.
Jewish women -- United States.
Politics and literature.
Social change in literature -- United States.
Social conflict in literature.
Women -- United States -- Social conditions.
Women authors, American -- 20th century.
Women poets, American -- 20th century.
Manuscripts for publication.
Bender, Eleanor M. (Eleanor Marie), 1941-
Benner Larsen, Erling.
Bissert, Ellen Marie.
Broner, E. M.
Garrett, George P., 1929-
Gilbert, Celia, 1932-
Hacker, Marilyn, 1942-
Hall, Donald, 1928-
Hecht, Warren Jay, 1946-
Hilderley, Jeriann, 1937-
Kennedy, Edward Moore, 1932-
Kerry, John, 1943-
Lerner, Michael, 1941-
Levertov, Denise, 1923-
Mechem, James, 1923-
Randall, Margaret, 1936-
Rich, Adrienne Cecile.
Schechter, Ruth Lisa.
Shapiro, Robert, 1935-
Sklar, Morty, 1935-
Snyder, Gary, |s 1930-
Walker, Sue Brannan, 1940-
Wallace, Robert, 1932-
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
Restricted Material: Access to a small portion of original materials in the Piercy papers has been restricted due to preservation concerns. In all cases, alternative forms of access have been provided. The restrictions are as follows: Boxes 50-51: Original recordings on open reel tapes have been closed due to their fragile nature. However, copies of these recordings on compact disc are freely available. Box 53: Additional copies ("Backup Copies") of the aforementioned recordable compact discs have been made for backup and reduplication purposes and are intended for staff use only.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Marge Piercy Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)