OSTRIKER, ALICIA (1937– ), U.S. poet and literary critic. Born in Brooklyn, New York, the second daughter of Beatrice (Linnick) and David Suskin, Ostriker was raised in a secular left-wing home. While studying English literature at Brandeis University (B.A. 1958), Alicia met Jeremiah P. Ostriker, a student at Harvard and a Reconstructionist Jew, who encouraged her to read the Bible. This first encounter with biblical literature created a complicated connection to Judaism that she would pursue in her subsequent creative and scholarly writing. The couple married in 1958. While her husband earned a doctorate in astrophysics at the University of Chicago, Ostriker pursued graduate work in English at the University of Wisconsin, earning an M.A. (1961) and Ph.D. (1964). Her dissertation focused on William Blake. In 1965, she joined the faculty of Rutgers University, teaching English and creative writing. She was promoted to full professor in 1972 and named distinguished professor in 1982.
Known for her strongly feminist perspective, Ostriker published numerous essays and five volumes of literary criticism, including Writing Like a Woman (1983) and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (1986). Her 11 volumes of poetry draw from her personal life. Once unaffiliated with any Jewish institution, Ostriker began to study Hebrew and Bible in the 1980s and went on to offer workshops on feminist Bible reading and Midrash at the National Havurah Institute. Both her scholarly and creative work reflect feminist readings of the Bible and of Jewish liturgy and tradition. The essays in Feminist Revision and the Bible (1992) and The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Vision and Revision (1994) reimagine characters and narratives of the Hebrew Bible from a contemporary, post-Holocaust, and feminist perspective. Her poems reflect similar concerns. Green Age (1989) addresses women's aging, spiritual development, and creativity, while offering a critique of patriarchy in Jewish tradition. The Crack in Everything (1996) charts her battle against breast cancer and includes several moving poems reflecting on the Holocaust. The Volcano Sequence (2002) probes Jewish texts, history, liturgy, and theology, revealing Ostriker's growing knowledge of classic rabbinic writing and modern Jewish philosophy, while No Heaven (2005) explores issues of Jewish identity as well as art.
Ostriker received many prestigious awards and grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1976–77); a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1982); a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1984–85); the Pushcart Prize (1979 and 2000); Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Prize for The Imaginary Lover (1986); Strousse Poetry Prize (1986); Edward Stanley Award (1994); Anna David Rosenberg Poetry Award (1994); Paterson Poetry Award (1996); San Francisco State Poetry Centre Award (1996); Readers' Choice Award (1998); and Bookman News Book of the Year (1998).