Photo Credit: JJ Tiziou

Eleanor Wilner

b. 1937

Current City, State, Country

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Cleveland, Ohio, USA


Eleanor Wilner, the author of nine poetry collections, is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975). Active in civil rights and peace movements, her work typically embraces a wide range of concerns, from Greek and Biblical myth and the worship of war to the holiness of bats. Wilner has been the recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Juniper Prize, and two Pushcart Prizes; in 2019 she was awarded the Frost Medal for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Society of America.

Wilner typically avoids confessional poetry that focuses on the private self, preferring instead to work in the transpersonal voice from what she has described as “cultural memory.” In an interview with Rebecca Seiferle for Drunken Boat, Wilner said she first encountered the concept of cultural memory from Russian poet Osip Mandelstam who was reported to have said, “I have no personal memory, only a cultural memory.” Wilner told Seiferle, “I remember reading this with an enormous sense of relief, as this was precisely my own experience. So much of the past cried out for utterance, especially all that had been silent, or silenced.” Wilner went on to explain the foundation of her poems, harkening back to her work in Gathering the Winds: “In order to validate my experience of poetic vision, I studied comparative mythology and anthropology, looking at new visions to understand their source, and saw the ways in which collective vision always began with a communal crisis and an individual who, in essence, dreamed for the community. This is what I think a poet does, and I think our culture has made us shallow and dreamless by inculcating the myth that the individual is defined and set apart by his or her own personal experience.”

In an essay for the Poetry Society of America, Wilner discussed “North American culture” and its poetry: “Perhaps more than any other aspect of North American culture, poetry eludes attempts at categorization and generalization,” she stated. “We are a chorus without a leader, and we pick up our themes and images from every side, and from bristling at and listening to one another. It is this eclectic imaginative miscegenation that makes our poetry so unclassifiable, so inexhaustible, and, happily, so entirely unpredictable.”

Wilner, who was formerly an editor of The American Poetry Review, is currently an advisory editor of Calyx, Sixteen Rivers, and Airlie Press. She has taught, most recently, at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Smith College. She taught for 30 years on the faculty of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College; she lives in Philadelphia.

(Biography courtesy of The Poetry Foundation and The American Academy of Poets)

Published Works

Gone to Earth: Early & Uncollected Poems, 1963-1975 (Crooked Hearts Press, 2021)
Before Our Eyes: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2017 (Princeton University Press, 2019)
Tourist in Hell (University of Chicago Press, 2010)
The Girl With Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1997)
Otherwise (University of Chicago Press, 1993)
Sarah’s Choice (University of Chicago Press, 1989)
Shekhinah (University of Chicago Press, 1984)
maya (University of Massachusetts Press, 1979)

Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975)

Edited Works
The Rag-Picker’s Guide to Poetry: Poems, Poets, Process (The University of Michigan Press, 2013)

Euripides 1: Medea, Hecuba, Andromache, The Bacchae; translator of Medea, with Inés Azar; Edited by David Slavitt and Palmer Bovie (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997)

Links to Sample Works

Video Reading

Current Title

Faculty, Warren Wilson MFA Program


Goucher College, BA
Johns Hopkins University, PhD

Languages of Publication(s) and Poets Translated

Greek, Euripides

Subject Matter


Profile Created By

Shelby Sizemore, Yetzirah Intern