Essays, Memoir & Fiction
It seems fitting that Maxine Kumin’s last published work was her memoir, The Pawnbroker’s Daughter (W.W. Norton, 2015), chronicling her life from childhood through advanced age, closing out a prolific writing career in grand style (the book made Oprah’s 2015 summer reading list). It serves as a great companion to her first memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 1999), about her recovery from a near fatal horse accident.
Her first novel, Through Dooms of Love, published in 1965, set in 1939, tackled the subject of a bond between widowed father and spirited daughter. She continued to write about relationships between men and women, friends, and parents and children in her next three novels and collection of short stories, Why Can’t We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings? (Viking, 1982) and then shifted to the murder mystery genre for her last two novels, Quit Monks or Die! (Story Line Press, 1999) and her only Young Adult novel, Lizzie! (Seven Stories Press, 2014).
Sprinkled in between the novels and books of poetry are five books of essays, published between 1980 and 2010, covering subjects similar in theme to the subjects covered in her poetry only in prose.
Essays and Memoir
The Pawnbroker's Daughter - 2015
From Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Maxine Kumin comes a timeless memoir of life, love, and poetry.
Maxine Kumin left an unrivaled legacy as a pioneering poet and feminist. The Pawnbroker’s Daughter charts her journey from a childhood in a Jewish community in Depression-era Philadelphia, where Kumin’s father was a pawnbroker, to Radcliffe College, where she comes into her own as an intellectual and meets the soldier-turned-Los Alamos scientist who would become her husband; to her metamorphosis from a poet of “light verse” to a “poet of witness”; to her farm in rural New England, the subject and setting of much of her later work.
Against all odds, Kumin channels her dissatisfaction with the life that is expected of her as a wife and a mother into her work as a feminist and one of the most renowned and remembered twentieth-century American poets.
The Pawnbroker’s Daughter – Maxine Kumin, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2015
The Roots of Things - 2010
Throughout her career, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Maxine Kumin has been at the vanguard of discussions about feminism and sexism, the state of poetry, and our place in the natural world. The Roots of Things gathers into one volume her best essays on the issues that have been closest to her throughout her storied career.
Divided into sections on “Taking Root,” “Poets and Poetry,” and “Country Living,” these pieces reveal Kumin honing her views within a variety of forms, including speeches, critical essays, and introductions of other writers’ work. Whether she is recollecting scenes from her childhood, ruminating on the ups and downs of what she calls “pobiz” (for “poetry business”), describing the battles she’s fought on behalf of women, or illuminating the lives of animals, Kumin offers insight that can only be born of long and closely observed experience.
The Roots of Things – Maxine Kumin, Northwestern Univ. Press, 2010
Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery - 2000
In July 1998, when Maxine Kumin’s horse bolted at a carriage-driving clinic, she was not expected to live. Yet, less than a year later, her progress pronounced a miracle by her doctors, she was at work on this journal of her astonishing recovery. She tells of her time “inside the halo,” the near-medieval device that kept her head immobile during weeks of intensive care and rehabilitation, of the lasting “rehab” friendships, and of the loving family who always believed she would heal. “[S]he resonates wisdom while announcing a triumph of body and soul.”—Anne Roiphe, New York Times Book Review
“Maxine Kumin brings the sensitivity and imagination of a poet to her extraordinary ordeal.” — Richard Selzer, author of Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery
“From a singular experience she has created a lesson that is universal, which, it seems to me, is the essence of being a poet.” — Abraham Verghese, author of The Tennis Partner
Inside the Halo and Beyond – Maxine Kumin, Viking (New York, NY)
Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry - 2000
In her essays, as with her Pultizer Prize-winning poetry, Maxine Kumin is equally at ease musing over her garden or discussing poetic form, raising horses or critiquing the work of other poets. For Kumin, poetry is inseparable from daily life. Whether remembering the early days of courtship with her husband (who then worked at Los Alamos during the first nuclear tests) or observing a grandchild learning to swim, poetry is a natural part of the discussion, as when, during an MRI, she recounts the healing role of memorized poems: “Lying in my MRI tomb and doggedly reciting the poem against the terrible rapping, I realized what saved me…”
“Maxine Kumin’s practical yet sensual New England reflections are a gift to any lover of the country.” — New York Times Book Review
Always Beginning – Maxine Kumin, Copper Canyon (Port Townsend, WA), 2000
Women, Animals, and Vegetables: Essays and Stories - 1994
Nearly twenty years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Maxine Kumin transplanted her urban family to an overgrown New Hampshire farm. Her latest prose work, a graceful and appealing blend of ten essays and eight stories, grew from the exertions and exhilarations of country living. Now a consummate horsewoman, Kumin here revels in the long-awaited birth of a foal; the rehabilitation of an abused mare; and such daily pleasures as the antics of Rilke, “the Poet’s Dog,” and the tactile beauty of home-grown vegetables. Kumin also muses on the process of writing, as inspired by the natural rhythms of farm life. Her stories, always underscored by a profound attachment to the natural world, focus subtly on personal relationships – as between a young naturalist and her widowed father; or a love affair between a hunter and a radical environmentalist. Full of anecdote and advice, love and grief, these pieces showcase one of our most versatile and deeply passionate writers.
Women, Animals, and Vegetables – Maxine Kumin, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1994
In Deep: Country Essays -1987
Living on the land and working with animals has provided inspiration and a special sense of place for Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Kumin. On their New Hampshire hill farm, she and her husband have cleared woodland for pasture, tended livestock, made maple syrup from their own trees. Kumin takes us into the woods for a spring mushroom hunt, tells about raising an orphan foal and explains how humans get involved with horses. There is an appreciative essay on the mule (and that beast’s metaphorical connection with poets), another on Highland cattle. Seeing friends depart for a canoe trip evokes a comparison with Thoreau’s journey to the Maine woods. Kumin also discusses her poetry and provides the story behind two specific poems. Her country essays are captivating; horse lovers and readers who appreciate Annie Dillard’s meditations on nature will enjoy every word.
In Deep – Maxine Kumin, Viking (New York, NY)
To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living - 1980
Maxine Kumin’s lively conversation presented through a series of interviews, her thoughtful assessment of literature in articles and reviews, and her ranging good sense in lectures delivered at Bread Loaf. Perhaps most moving of all are the accents of grief and friendship we hear when Maxine Kumin writes about Anne Sexton. Finally, in a group of essays drawn from her experiences in the country, we have the poet herself in her own words—the life lived.
To Make a Prairie – Maxine Kumin, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1980
Novels and Short Stories
Lizzie! 2014 (Young Adult)
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Maxine Kumin brings a disabled heroine named Lizzie to life in this exciting adventure of black markets, screeching monkeys, Florida in the summertime, and the bonds of true friendship.
America, meet Lizzie Peterlinz, age 11. Paralyzed below the waist after slipping off a diving board two years ago, Lizzie does not let her wheelchair get in the way of her curiosity. She and her single mother are starting life over in a small town in Florida, where Lizzie’s hunger for knowledge and adventure lead her to some unlikely friends. She bonds with Josh, the only other disabled kid at her school, and they rejoice in normal kid activities, despite the awkward stares they face at school.
Lizzie! – Written by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Elliott Gilbert, Triangle Square (New York, NY) 2014
Quit Monks or Die! 1999
The story is sent in Montandino, an imaginary town of the Southwest. The Latino chief of police is the most powerful figure in the town, which houses little besides the Graysmith Research Laboratory and the Hammerling Engineering School. During the search for a missing research monkey, the police chief finds the body of the lab director in a pit used for maternal deprivation experiments. The director’s young graduate assistant is found murdered a few days later. Is there a connection between these two deaths? Matters are complicated by The Mercy Bandits, animal rights terrorists modeled after The Band of Mercy, a 19th century group which rescued cart horses in London from abusive drivers.
Quit Monks or Die! – Maxine Kumin, Story Line (Ashland, OR), 1999
Why Can't We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings? 1982
A collection of fourteen short stories explores issues of how men and women (and women and women, and men and men) relate to one another, and what connections they make or fail to make. And to them Maxine Kumin brings the textures of the natural world and the rituals and universalism of human interplay so recognizably to life that her characters, as Jane Howard has written about her fiction, “take up permanent residence in our minds” (The New York Times Book Review).
Why Can’t We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings? – Maxine Kumin, Viking (New York, NY), 1982
The Designated Heir - 1974
Love, argues Robin Parks, is to be resisted, along with all other total immersions. Isn’t it a typical smokescreen to claim that marriage can be based on it?
Confronted with Jeffrey Rabinowitz, licensed architect, ex-Peace Corpsman, urban-housing dropout, and self-proposed husband, Robin battles all cozy domestic daydreams: hasn’t she observed a generation of wives who served as donkey engines, hoisting and pulling? Her mind is “a clutter of misconceptions and warring attitudes.” She lived among the black flies of the Mink Hills, New Hampshire, an entire month before she went to bed with Jeff; others had preceded him, she was afraid that someone would follow.
The Designated Heir – Maxine Kumin, Viking (New York, NY), 1974
The Abduction - 1971
The novel reveals the joys and torments of a woman in her early forties who discovers two new people whom she comes to love. One is a brilliant, attractive man who wants her. The other is a child who, unlike her own, needs her. That she herself is Jewish and married, the man she loves an Aryan German with an American wife and family, and the child black, does not matter to her, not even when her world begins to unravel.
The Abduction is Maxine Kumin’s third novel, vivid and real in characters and event, passionate, compelling, and deeply moving.
The Abduction – Maxine Kumin, Harper (New York, NY), 1971
The Passions of Uxport - 1968
This remarkable novel tells the story of two marriages at crisis point. The seventeen years that Hallie and Mellon Peakes have lived in the Boston suburbs have been busy and useful. The twins, Adam and Linda, have developed into intelligent, responsible adolescents. Hallie’s concern with good and sometimes needy causes, her part-time teaching at a nearby college, her close friendship with Sukey Davis, a talented painter, help to make up for the loneliness of Mellon’s long business trips. Why, then, did a gnawing knot of pain begin “deep in the geographical center of her being?”
The Passions of Uxport – Maxine Kumin, Harper (New York, NY), 1968
Through Dooms of Love - 1965
The bonds that unite – and threaten to strangle – father and daughter are the the stuff of this passionately realized novel of Joanna Ferguson, eighteen and angry, child of a prosperous Jewish pawnbroker. The time is 1939, and Jo is a Radcliffe sophomore home on vacation when she and her father come—literally—to blows. Jo is a girl of spirit, ardently committed to fighting social injustice, and Jacob Ferguson, himself a man of much feeling, prizes this fierceness in her. But when one of Jo’s causes hits at the business he has built up honorably, seriously, and with entire self-respect, his rage against her explodes.
Through Dooms of Love – Maxine Kumin, Harper (New York, NY), 1965, published as A Daughter and Her Loves, Gollancz (London, England), 1965