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Linda Pastan was born in the Bronx, New York, on May 27, 1932, to a Jewish family. She was raised in Armonk, in Westchester Country. Pastan’s father, an immigrant from Europe, was a surgeon. Her mother was a homemaker who occasionally worked at Pastan’s father’s medical practice. Pastan graduated from Radcliffe College, earned a master’s degree in library science from Simmons University in Boston, then received an MA in English and American literature from Brandeis University in 1958. During her senior year at Radcliffe, Pastan won a collegiate poetry prize sponsored by Mademoiselle magazine. Sylvia Plath placed second in the contest.
Pastan is the author of Almost an Elegy (W. W. Norton, 2022); Insomnia (W. W. Norton, 2015); Traveling Light (W. W. Norton, 2011); Queen of a Rainy Country (W. W. Norton, 2006); The Last Uncle (W. W. Norton, 2002); Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968–1998 (W. W. Norton, 1998), which was nominated for the National Book Award; An Early Afterlife (W. W. Norton, l995); Heroes In Disguise (W. W. Norton, 1991), The Imperfect Paradise (W. W. Norton, 1988), a nominee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; PM/AM: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 1982), which was nominated for the National Book Award; The Five Stages of Grief (W. W. Norton, 1978); and A Perfect Circle of Sun (Swallow Press, 1971).
About Pastan’s The Five Stages of Grief, the poet May Sarton said:
It is about all her integrity that has made Linda Pastan such a rewarding poet. Nothing is here for effect. There is no self-pity, but in this new book she has reached down to a deeper layer and is letting the darkness in. These poems are full of foreboding and acceptance, a wry unsentimental acceptance of hard truth. They are valuable as signposts, and in the end, as arrivals. Pastan’s signature is growth.
Pastan’s many awards and honors include a Pushcart Prize, a Dylan Thomas Award, the Di Castagnola Award, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Maurice English Award, the Charity Randall Citation, and the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She was a recipient of a Radcliffe College Distinguished Alumnae Award.
From 1991 to 1995, Pastan served as the poet laureate of Maryland, and was among the staff of the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference for twenty years. Pastan lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, until her death on January 30, 2023.