Born: March 31, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan
Marge Piercy is a feminist writer of fiction, poetry, and memoir. She is known for examining women, relationships, and emotions in new and provocative ways.
Marge Piercy grew up in Detroit. Like many U.S. families of the 1930s, hers was affected by the Great Depression. She also knew the “outsider” struggle of being a Jew, as she was raised by her Jewish mother and non-practicing Presbyterian father.
Marge Piercy cites her maternal grandmother, who had previously lived on a shtetl in Lithuania, as an influence on her upbringing. She remembers her grandmother as a storyteller and her mother as a voracious reader who encouraged observation of the world around her.
Education and Early Adulthood
Marge Piercy began writing poetry and fiction as a teenager. She attended the University of Michigan, where she co-edited the literary magazine and became a published writer for the first time. She earned scholarships and awards, including a fellowship to Northwestern to pursue her master’s degree.
Marge Piercy felt like an outsider in 1950s U.S. higher education, in part because of what she calls dominant Freudian values. Her sexuality and ambition did not conform to expected behavior. The themes of women’s sexuality and women’s roles would later be prominent in her writing.
Marriage and Relationships
Marge Piercy married young, but left her first husband by age 23. She was frustrated by the expectation of conventional sex roles in that marriage.
With her second husband, Marge Piercy lived in Cambridge, San Francisco, Boston, and New York. The marriage was an open relationship, and others sometimes lived with them. She worked long hours as a feminist and anti-war activist, but eventually left New York after the movements began to splinter and fall apart.
Marge Piercy and her husband moved to Cape Cod, where she began writing Small Changes, published in 1973. That novel explores a variety of relationships with men and women, in marriage and in communal living. Her second marriage ended later that decade.
Marge Piercy married Ira Wood in 1982. They have written several books together, including the play Last White Class, the novel Storm Tide, and a non-fiction book about the craft of writing. Together they started the Leapfrog Press, which publishes midlist fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. They sold the publishing company to new owners in 2008.
Writing and Exploration
Marge Piercy says her writing and poetry changed after she moved to Cape Cod. She sees herself as part of a connected universe. She bought land and became interested in gardening. In addition to writing, she has remained active working in the women’s movement and teaching at a Jewish retreat center.
Marge Piercy visits the places where she sets her novels, even if she has been there before, to see them through her characters’ eyes. She describes writing fiction as inhabiting another world for a few years. It allows her to explore choices she didn’t make and imagine what would have happened.
Marge Piercy’s novels include Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Vida (1979), Fly Away Home (1984), and Gone to Soldiers (1987). Her poetry books include The Moon is Always Female (1980) and What Are Big Girls Made Of? (1987). Her memoir, Sleeping With Cats, was published in 2002.