Carolyn Forché

Born: 1950

Coiner of the term “poetry of witness,” Carolyn Forché is frequently characterized as a political poet; she calls for poetry to invest in the “social.” Born in 1950 as the oldest of seven children, Forché was raised in Farmington, Michigan. Around the age of nine, her Catholic feminist mother Louise suggested Carolyn should try to entertain herself by writing a poem. Louise pulled out her old college textbook and taught meter and stresses to Carolyn. In 1972, Forché received her BA in international relations from Michigan State University and then, three years later, her MFA at Bowling Green State University. She published her first book of poetry, Gathering the Tribes, in 1975 at age 24; it won the 1975 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. Forché received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship after translating the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Algería in 1977; the fellowship enabled her to work as a human rights advocate in El Salvador. She has published five books of poetry and the 2019 memoir What You Have Heard Is True. Her work is often described as “devastating” due to its searing honesty and unflinching accounting of travesties. Forché has been given various awards in recognition of her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of culture and memory. The Lannan Visiting Professor of Poetry and Professor of English at Georgetown University, she currently lives in Maryland.