Photo Credit: Melody C. Miller

ruth weiss


Current City, State, Country

San Francisco, California, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Berlin, Germany


ruth weiss is an internationally famous poet, artist, actress, and filmmaker. Born in Berlin, Germany, on June 24, 1928, ruth weiss spent her childhood exploring nature, reading, and writing. In 1938, her news editor father, mother, and ruth fled Nazi Germany and arrived in The United States. After moving around to find a stable home in New York and Iowa, the family settled in Chicago, Illinois. ruth wrote a poem about how America saved her life, and she sent it to President Roosevelt and received a heartfelt response. At a young age, the already lyrical and rebellious writer ruth changed the spelling of her name from Ruth Weiss to lowercase ruth weiss as a protest of the law-and-order ethos of her birthplace in Germany, where nouns are capitalized.

ruth graduated from Sullivan High School in Chicago in 1946 at the top of her class. She later attended Neuchâtel College in Switzerland. In 1949, ruth moved back to Chicago and lived at the Art Circle, a house on Chicago’s near north side that rented to artists and poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks, who mentored ruth. It was there where painter Earnest Alexander pulled her poem out of the typewriter and chanted for her to read it to the musician friends hanging out in their living room. And like magic, the musicians started to jam to her poetry. ruth then hitchhiked to New Orleans and performed with musicians in watering holes, and painted her hair green to raise awareness of war orphans.

In 1952, ruth heard about the magnificent fog in San Francisco and hitchhiked to see it for herself, making the Bay Area her stomping grounds for decades. ruth contributed to American literary history as a poet associated with word jazz or reading poetry to improvisational jazz music. She is also considered a member of America’s Beat Generation (mid-1950s–mid-1970s) and at the forefront of women’s rights. ruth weiss has written more than twenty-three books and has performed across Europe and America. She has also directed films such as the Brink, a muse in Stephen Arnold’s films in the 60s-70s, modeled in art schools, wrote theater plays, painted watercolor haiku, and loved to dance!

Later ruth settled in the redwood forest of Albion, California, in Mendocino County. She was married to artist Paul Blake for forty-one years. They had no children. Some of her most notable books are Can’t Stop the Beat, Desert Journal, Steps, Single Out, Light, Full Circle, a Fool’s Journey, and many more. Known for her sparse, poignant writing, ruth weiss won the 2020 Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award for her literature and art innovations. She is the subject of an Emmy Award-winning documentary ruth weiss, the beat goddessby filmmaker Melody C. Miller.  The film premiered at the Asolo Art Film Festival in Italy, won Best Documentary at the Peekskill Film Festival, won Visionary Women In Film Award at the Santa Cruz Film Festival, and is nominated for Best Documentary at 10 other film festivals nationwide.

ruth weiss is also well-known for her long-time environmental activism, often writing about the plight of whales and redwood trees, issues concerning the deep ecology of our planet, and her California coastal regions. ruth loved spending time with friends, reading her poems at gatherings, walking in the redwood forest, and always loved to write.

ruth weiss, 92, passed of natural causes on July 31, 2020, in Albion, California, in her home in the redwoods.

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

ruth frequently referenced her Jewish heritage in her poetry, including imagery and words particular to a Jewish sensibility. For a glimpse at how she included her culture in her oeuvre, read her poem “Sefardic Mexican Blue.” ruth’s experience as a child of the Holocaust and more broadly as a child of war deeply impacted her work and activism. She helped build the beat generation in part because of her own lived experiences with the cruelty of anti-semitism.

Published Works

The Snake Sez Yesssss / Die Schlange sagt Jetzzzzzt (2013)
Einen Schritt weiter im Westen ist die See [One More Step West is the Sea] (2012)
A Parallel Planet of People and Places (2012)
A Fool’s Journey/Die Reise des Narren (2012)
Can’t Stop the Beat: The Life and Words of a Beat Poet (2011)
No Dancing Aloud / Lautes Tanzen nicht erlaubt (2006)
White is All Colors / Weiß ist alle Farben (2004)
Africa (2003)
Full Circle / Ein Kreis vollendet sich (2002)
A New View of Matter / Nový pohled na věc (1999)
For These Women of the Beat (1997)
13 Haiku (1986)
Single Out (1978)
Desert Journal (1977, new edition 2012 by Trembling Pillow Press)
Light and Other Poems (1976)
Blue in Green (1960)
South Pacific (1959)
Gallery of Women (1959)
Steps (1958)

Author Site


Neuchâtel College in Switzerland

Subject Matter


Profile Created By

Annie Rosenstein-Executive Assistant ruth weiss Foundation