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Sharon Olds is a relatively modern poet. Born in 1942 in San Francisco, she attended Stanford and Columbia Universities. Little has been written about Olds, since she has only been published since 1980. She is a teacher at New York University and manages their workshop program for the Goldwater Hospital in New York, and she has enjoyed praise in her short career. Olds has won the San Francisco Poetry Center Award for Satan Says (1980), the Lamont Poetry Selection and National Book Critics Circle Award for The Dead and the Living (1984), and the T. S. Eliot Prize for The Father (1992). (Olds, Wellspring) Sharon Olds has been the recipient of endowments from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and she has published widely in periodicals such as The New Yorker, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, and others. (Olds, Living) Since little is known about Olds’ life, she presents an opportunity to be read without the nuisance or baggage of other critics’ opinions or preferences. Fortunately, Olds’ speakers are intensely personal, and much can be inferred about the author through them.
Sharon Olds’ work is dominated by her relationship with her family, especially her father. Although only sparse biographical evidence is available, the firm grasp her relationships have on her writing is undeniable. In her early poems, Olds clearly defines her work as very personal and outspoken. The theme of Olds’ speaker’s brutal relationships becomes much stronger as her works progress; perhaps this is Olds’ response to her father’s prolonged death. In The Dead and the Living and The Gold Cell, Olds seems to be focused on her relationships with her children, and on remembering herself as a child. In The Takers, her speaker describes her grotesque experiences with her older sister:
Hitler entered Paris the way my
sister entered my room at night,
sat astride me, squeezed me with her knees,...
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