WARNER – Maxine W. Kumin, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, novelist, essayist, and tireless advocate for literature, and for many another writer, particularly women, as well as for animal rights and human and political justice, died Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, at her home in Warner, following a period of increasing frailty. She was 88.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate (then titled Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, 1981-82) and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire (1989-94), and author of more than three dozen books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children's literature, Ms. Kumin's volume "Up Country" won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for 1973. Her work was recognized with numerous other awards over the years including the Ruth Lilly Prize (1999), the Harvard Medal, the Levinson Prize, the Los Angeles Times Poetry Award (2011), as well as honorary degrees from numerous schools. Kumin was also a prominent teacher of writing, occupying graduate or undergraduate visiting chairs or fellowships at Boston University, Brandeis, Columbia, MIT, Princeton, and many others, and most recently at New England College in Henniker, where she helped establish a new poetry MFA program. Writing to the end, her final volume of poems, "And Short the Season," will appear later this year.
Born June 6, 1925, in Germantown (Philadelphia), Pa. to Peter and Doll (Simon) Winokur, Kumin was raised there and attended Cheltenham High School matriculating to Radcliffe College of Harvard University, (A.B. 1946; A.M. 1948; Radcliffe [Bunting] Institute Scholar, 1962-63). On a blind date in 1944 she met Victor Kumin, then on leave from Army service in Los Alamos, N.M., with whom in 1946 she would undertake "The Long Marriage," the title of one of Kumin's best-known poems, and volumes; it would endure 67 years. The Kumins first settled in Newton, Mass. moving permanently to the hillside Warner farm familiar to her readers in 1973. Kumin's work and life were linked to those of another noted poet, Anne Sexton, with whom she "workshopped," in person or by phone, every day for 20 years, ending only with the latter's suicide in 1974. The two also collaborated on several children's books.
In New Hampshire Kumin continued producing the work that would ultimately span six decades, informed by a love and deep observation of nature, both external and human, and an unwavering commitment to the craft of writing. There she also shared her life with four generations of horses and numerous rescue dogs. Besides her work and her animals, Kumin's abiding passion was her organic vegetable garden, which each season enjoyed a degree of planning, execution and care that few could rival.
Maxine W. Kumin is survived by her husband, Victor; daughters Jane, of San Francisco, and Judith, of Hopkinton; son, Daniel and spouse, Elizabeth Hodges, of Concord; and grandsons, Yann and Noah; and by long-time personal assistant, devoted friend, and enthusiastic co-gardener Suzannah Colt of Warner. The family is inexpressibly grateful to care-giver Cari Young for her unflagging attention through Kumin's final year.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations to the Concord Merrimack SPCA, 130 Washington St., Penacook, N.H. 03303 or to the Lake Sunapee Region VNA & Hospice, 107 Newport Road, PO Box 2209, New London, N.H. 03257.
A celebration of Maxine Kumin's life and work will be held in the spring.
The Bennett Funeral Home of Concord is in charge of the arrangements. Messages of condolences may be offered at bennettfuneral.com.
Published in The Concord Monitor on Feb. 8, 2014