NEW YORK | Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose rapturous odes to nature and animal life drew critical acclaim and popular affection, has died. She was 83.
Bill Reichblum, Oliver’s literary executor, said she died Thursday at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida from lymphoma.
“Thank you, Mary Oliver, for giving so many of us words to live by,” Hillary Clinton wrote in a tweet in the writers’ honor.
Oliver penned more than 15 poetry and essay collections, and wrote brief, direct pieces that spoke of her worship of the outdoors and disdain for greed, despoilment and other human crimes. One of her favorite adjectives was “perfect,” and rarely did she apply it to mankind. Her muses were owls and butterflies, frogs and geese, the changes of the seasons, the sun and the stars.
Her poetry books included “White Pine,” ”West Wind” and the anthology “Devotions,” which was released in 2017. She won the Pulitzer in 1984 for “American Primitive” and the National Book Award in 1992 for “New and Selected Poems.” In 1998, she received the Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. Her fans ranged from fellow poets Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove to Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
“Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward,” Stephen Dobyns wrote of her in The New York Times.
Oliver, a native of Maple Hills Heights in suburban Cleveland, endured what she called a “dysfunctional” family in part by writing poems and building huts of sticks and grass in the nearby woods. Edna St. Vincent Millay was an early influence and, while in high school, Oliver wrote to the late poet’s sister, Norma, asking if she could visit Millay’s house in Austerlitz, New York. Norma Millay agreed and Oliver ended up spending several years there, organizing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s papers. While in Austerlitz, she also met the photographer Molly Malone Cook — “I took one look and fell, hook and tumble,” Oliver later wrote — and the two were partners until Cook’s death, in 2005. Much of Oliver’s work was dedicated to Cook.