Jean Nordhaus

Current City, State, Country

Washington, DC, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Baltimore, Maryland, USA


Jean Nordhaus was born in Baltimore, Maryland, studied philosophy at Barnard College, and received her doctorate in modern German literature from Yale University. She has published six volumes of poetry, two chapbooks, and her poems have appeared in many journals, including American Poetry Review, The Hudson Review, The New Republic, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Best American Poetry 2000, and the 2007 Pushcart Prize Anthology. In addition, she has published numerous articles, essays, and dance reviews in the Washington Post, the Washington Review, Poet Lore, and the PSA Bulletin.

From 1980 to 1983, and again in 1991-1992, she administered the poetry programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. While at the Folger in 1982-83, she also administered the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. From 1988 through the spring of 1994, she served as President of Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a cooperative poetry press. A selection of her Moses Mendelssohn poems won the 1997 Edward Stanley Award from Prairie Schooner. She served for eight years as Review Editor for Poet Lore.

What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?

My relationship to Judaism and Jewish culture is primarily tribal, and is deeply entwined with my life as a writer. When, in my 30’s, I began again to write poetry, it was with a sense of return not only to the Jewish world in which I was raised, but to the life of the mind and the passion for books and language that I have always associated with Judaism. My interests had always involved language. In childhood, I loved the bible stories and the cadences of psalm. As a philosophy major in college I was drawn to “the language school” and British analytic philosophy. My graduate study in German literature was an outgrowth of my fascination with the Yiddish I heard in my mother’s home. When I came to poetry, I felt I had finally found a place where I belonged and where I could use everything that mattered to me. “For this is my own tribe,” I wrote in a sequence titled “On the Road to Qumran.” All of my books have included poems of Jewish theme or reference, but my third book, The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn represented my full embrace of the Jewish tradition in its intersection with the democratic values of the Enlightenment.

Published Works

The Music of Being (Broadstone Books, 2023)
Memos from the Broken World (Mayapple Press, 2016)
Innocence (Ohio State University Press, 2006)
The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn (Milkweed Editions, 2002)
My Life in Hiding (Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Book Series, 1991)
A Bracelet of Lies (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 1987)
A Purchase of Porcelain (chapbook; Poetry Society of South Carolina, 1998)
A Language of Hands (chapbook; SCOP, 1982)

Links to Sample Works


Barnard College, B.A.
Yale University, PhD