On this episode of The Archive Project, Sharon Olds begins her lecture by reading a poem by Langston Hughes called “Luck,” which she tells the audience she memorized on the subway in New York City. From there, she reads several of her poems on the theme of family and personal life, including a description of her experience learning to read and her memory of running through the airport on the way to visit her dying father. Between her own works, she shares a selection of poems by other people, including one written by her sister.
“It’s great to have someone in a field that you love—someone to love and admire and study and feel close to.”
“One of the great things about traveling is the new point of view you can get on things you thought you knew.”
“I just love to read poems by other people. It’s the only time up here when I’m really happy.”
Raised a Calvinist in Berkeley, California, Sharon Olds published her first book of poems, Satan Says, at age thirty-seven. This was the start of a career that would include 12 collections of poetry to date, including Strike Sparks, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Stag’s Leap, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the T.S. Eliot prize. When describing her writing process in an interview with Salon, Olds stated she is “not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets,” and instead tries to be “an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion.” Olds’ awards and honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. She served as the New York State Poet Laureate from 1998 to 2000 and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at New York University.