Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her first collection of poems, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963 when she was 28. In 2007 New York Times noted that Oliver was “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.”
Mary Jane Oliver was born in the town of Maple Heights, Ohio. She developed a deep appreciation for nature during her formative years.
Mary Jane Oliver discovered her passion for poetry at 14. After graduating from her local high school in Maple Heights, she embarked on a journey of artistic exploration. At 15, she attended the prestigious National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, where she honed her musical talents as part of the National High School Orchestra's percussion section.
A milestone in her life occurred at 17 when she visited the home of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, New York.
She attended The Ohio State University and Vassar College in the mid-1950s but did not receive a degree.
Influenced by transcendentalist writers, she crafted verses that captured the essence of the natural realm with remarkable clarity and lyrical beauty.
In 1963, Oliver debuted with No Voyage and Other Poems, a collection that unveiled her distinct poetic voice. Her verses wove an intricate tapestry of imagery, capturing the subtle beauty of the natural world with astonishing clarity.
Subsequent collections, including The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972) and Dream Work (1986), further cemented Oliver's position as a poet of unparalleled depth and sensitivity. Her poetry brimming with keen observations and tender musings evoked an undeniable sense of wonder and provoked introspection, forging a profound connection between the reader and the natural realm.
Oliver's literary achievements garnered widespread acclaim. Among her many honors are the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for American Primitive and the National Book Award in 1992 for New and Selected Poetry. She was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Academy of Arts, and the Letters Achievement Award.
Mary Oliver’s prose works include A Poetry Handbook (1994); Blue Pastures (1995); Rules for the Dance (1998); Winter Hours (1999); Long Life (2004); Our World with Molly Malone Cook (2007); and, Upstream: Selected Essays (2016).
Mary Jane Oliver faced a health challenge in 2012 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. However, after completing a course of treatment, she received a good prognosis and was declared free of the disease. Tragically, Oliver passed away on January 17, 2019, at 83, due to complications from lymphoma.
That same year on her birthday in September, thousands of fans came together at the 92nd Street Y in New York for A Tribute to Mary Oliver.
Photo credit: FB @PoetMaryOliver