Marilyn Hacker

Avidly writing since the age of 12, Hacker is best known for her poetry, which she says is her first love and strongest talent. It was for poetry that Hacker won the National Book Award for her 1974 Presentation Piece, a couple of Lambda Literary Awards, honors from the Paris Review, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, among others.

Despite the honors Hacker has received, she says that “Any time I finish a piece of work, or sequence of work, I get more satisfaction than any award I can think of.” She has written 11 books, each equally laborious. It’s difficult for her to make a distinction of the most personal of her pieces, because each reflects a different time in her life. She does not consider her writing to be gay-specific literature, but says that, for a writer, all aspects of life are reflected in her work, including sexuality. “Lesbians and gay men have been making art since art has been made,” she said. “One wants to make use of the things they feel.”

Although she has been called a lesbian activist, “I’m an activist on various fronts,” she says. Hacker cites her activist work for human rights and feminist rights of equal importance. She is currently involved with a PEN project to grant an Iraqi fellowship recipient a way out of her war-torn country. The fellow wants to use her prize to translate modern poetry about women into Arabic.

Hacker spends half the year in her hometown of New York City, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses at the City University, and half in Paris, a city she says she fell in love with over 20 years ago. “It’s always an interesting time in Paris,” she said, “because my daily life is in one language and my writing is in English.” –Lisette Johnson