Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Fog 26° Fog

Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who had ‘love-hate’ relationship with Spokane, dies

Spokane native Carolyn Kizer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, died Thursday in Sonoma, California. She was 89. Kizer, who won the prize for her collection titled “Yin” in 1985, was known for lengthy poems and for the often biting tone in her work. Some of her poems were based on her life while others were more political or feminist in nature. She was born in Spokane in 1925. Her father, Benjamin H. Kizer, was a well-known lawyer who had encouraged poet Vachel Lindsay to move to Spokane in the 1920s, according to the Spokane Chronicle. Her mother, Mabel Kizer, was a biologist. One of her poems, “When You Are Distant,” was published in the New Yorker when she was 17. Spokane Poet Laureate Thom Caraway first encountered Kizer’s work in an undergraduate class at Eastern Washington University. Reading her collection of poetry titled “Harping On” was part of the class. “She was one of the first voices of the Northwest,” he said. “The fact that she was a woman poet in this male landscape and writing with such authority and conviction was really compelling.” As time went on, Caraway acquired more of her collections for his home bookshelf and found himself impressed with all her accomplishments, including working with the State Department as a teacher in Pakistan from 1964 to 1965. She helped found the journal Poetry Northwest in 1959 and was its editor for several years. She was also the first director of literary programs for the National Endowment for the Arts and was chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1995 to 1998, according to the group’s website. “She took her responsibility as an artist very seriously,” Caraway said. She received a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College in New York in 1945. She married Stimson Bullitt of Seattle in 1946 and had three children before divorcing him in 1954, according to the New York Times. She later married architect John Marshall Woodbridge in 1975, who died in June. Kizer, who wrote eight books of poetry, won several awards and honors over the years in addition to her Pulitzer. The Washington Poets Association gave her a lifetime achievement award in 2006. She taught and lectured at several universities and was a visiting writer at numerous literary conferences. In of her poems in “Cool, Calm and Collected” is “Running Away from Home” about her departure from Spokane, in which she skewers the town and surrounding area for several pages. “After Spokane, what horrors lurk in hell?” she wrote. Caraway said he knows that Spokane was not a town that fostered or even cared about the arts or writers when Kizer lived here. “Spokane was probably not a place that nurtured her,” he said. “I, for one, am glad that’s not necessarily true anymore.” Kizer, a Lewis and Clark High School graduate, told The Spokesman-Review in 1985 that her relationship with Spokane was “love-hate.” “I take some potshots at Spokane in my work, but I always love to come back,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful place.”
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.