In 1974, Adrienne Rich’s collection of exploratory poems, Diving into the Wreck, split the 1974 National Book Award for Poetry with Allen Ginsberg. Declining to accept it individually, Rich was joined by the two other feminist poets nominated, Alice Walker and Audre Lorde, to accept it on behalf of all women “whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world.”
The pact between Rich, Lorde and Alice walker was made when they learned that all three of them, along with Allen Ginsberg, had been nominated for the National Book Award in Poetry that year. The women agreed that if any one of them received the award, she would accept it on behalf of all three and read a collaboratively written statement—a feminist manifesto, in fact—at the awards ceremony. Rich and Ginsberg were named co-recipients of the award.
At the ceremony, Rich, in keeping with the pact, invited Lorde (Walker was not present) to share the stage with her as she read their words, including this pronouncement: “We symbolically join together in refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women.” Rich’s poetry, like Lorde’s, was and is equally unapologetic about naming and resisting the systems of oppression that keep the powerful in power.
Below is the speech written by all three women and read aloud at the National Book Award ceremony.
The statement I am going to read was prepared by three of the women nominated for the National Book Award for poetry, with the agreement that it would be read by whichever of us, if any, was chosen.We, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain. We believe that we can enrich ourselves more in supporting and giving to each other than by competing against each other; and that poetry—if it is poetry—exists in a realm beyond ranking and comparison. We symbolically join together here in refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women. We appreciate the good faith of the judges for this award, but none of us could accept this money for herself, nor could she let go unquestioned the terms on which poets are given or denied honor and livelihood in this world, especially when they are women. We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women, of every color, identification, or derived class: the poet, the housewife, the lesbian, the mathematician, the mother, the dishwasher, the pregnant teen-ager, the teacher, the grandmother, the prostitute, the philosopher, the waitress, the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voices have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.