The University of Wisconsin Press

Biography / Poetry

Lorine Niedecker
A Poet's Life
Margot Peters

Best Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians

“A nuanced and insightful account of the life of this Wisconsin poet, focusing in particular on Niedecker’s relationship to the objectivist circle, her family history, her relationship to her Fort Atkinson community, and her engagement with the natural world of Blackhawk Island.”
—Faith Barrett, Lawrence University

Lorine Niedecker (1903–70) was a poet of extraordinary talent whose life and work were long enveloped in obscurity. After her death in 1970, poet Basil Bunting wrote that she was “the most interesting woman poet America has yet produced. . . only beginning to be appreciated when she died.” Her poverty and arduous family life, the isolated home in Wisconsin that provided rich imagery for her work, and her unusual acquaintances have all contributed to Niedecker’s enigmatic reputation.

Margot Peters brings Lorine Niedecker’s life out of the shadows in this first full biography of the poet. She depicts Niedecker’s watery world on Blackhawk Island (near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin), where she was born and spent most of her life. A brief college career cut short by family obligations and an equally brief marriage were followed in 1931 by the start of a life-changing correspondence and complicated thirty-five-year friendship with modernist poet Louis Zukofsky, who connected Niedecker to a literary lifeline of distant poets and magazines. Supporting herself by turns as a hospital scrubwoman and proofreader for a dairy journal, Niedecker made a late marriage to an industrial painter, which gave her time to write and publish her work in the final decades of her life.

During her lifetime, Niedecker’s poetry was praised by a relatively small literary circle, including Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, and Allen Ginsberg. Since her death, much more of her surviving writings have been published, including a comprehensive edition of collected works and two volumes of correspondence. Through Margot Peters’s compelling biography, readers will discover Lorine Niedecker as a poet of spare and brilliant verse and a woman whose talent and grit carried her through periods of desperation and despair.

Margot Peters is an accomplished and award-winning biographer whose many books include Unquiet Soul: A Biography of Charlotte Bronte; The House of Barrymore; Design for Living: Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; May Sarton: A Biography; and Bernard Shaw and the Actresses. She lives in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.


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October 2011
LC: 2011018267 PS
392 pp.   6 x 9   36 b/w photos

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Cloth $34.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-28500-5
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"Eminently readable and thoroughly researched, the biography illuminates Niedecker's isolated, rural life and portrays a likeable, complex woman whose poetry was scarcely recognized during her lifetime but is now enjoying a resurgence of appreciation."
—Sara Rath, author of H.H. Bennett

"Peter's groundbreaking biography will bring a new wave of readers to this solitary heartland poet."

Visit Margot Peters at

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Updated January 17, 2013

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