Born in a small town in Ohio, Mary Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28. Over the course of her long career, she received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She led workshops and held residencies at various colleges and universities, including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching. She died in 2019.
There's hardly a page in my copy of Upstream that isn't folded down or underlined and scribbled on, so charged is Oliver's language...I need a moment away from unceasing word drip of debates about the election, about whether Elena Ferrante has the right to privacy, about whether Bob Dylan writes 'Literature.' I need a moment, more than a moment, in the steady and profound company of Mary Oliver and I think you might need one too. --Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air Uniting essays from Oliver's previous books and elsewhere, this gem of a collection offers a compelling synthesis of the poet's thoughts on the natural, spiritual and artistic worlds . . . With each page, the book gains accumulative power. The various threads intertwine and become taut. - The New York Times When reading Mary Oliver in any form -- poetry or prose -- you oughtn't be surprised when suddenly you find yourself at a full stop. When you come across a sentence so arresting in its beauty -- its construction, its word choice, its truths -- you can't help but pause, hit reread, and await the transformative soaking-in, the awakening of mind and soul that's sure to settle deeply. She never fails to stir us from whatever is the natural speck before our gaze to the immeasurable heaven's dome above and beyond. -- Chicago Tribune Upstream is a testament to a lifetime of paying attention, and an invitation to readers to do the same. -- Christian Science Monitor The richness of these essays--part revelation, part instruction--will prompt readers to dive in again and again. --The Washington Post A tremendously vitalizing read...grounding and elevating at the same time. --Brain Pickings Oliver immerses us in an ever-widening circle, in which a shrub or flower opens onto the cosmos, revealing our meager, masterful place in it. Hold Upstream in your hands, and you hold a miracle of ravishing imagery and startling revelation. -- Minneapolis Star Tribune Highly recommended as an entree to Oliver's works, this volume should also be required reading for artists of all kinds, not just writers, and especially aspiring creative minds. -- Library Journal (starred review) Distinguished, honored, prolific, popular, bestselling--adjectives that don't always hang out together--describe Oliver's body of work, nearly three dozen volumes of poetry and collections of prose. This group (19 essays, 16 from previous collections) is a distillation of sorts. Born of two blessings--the natural world, and the world of writing: literature, it partakes of the spirits of a journal, a commonplace book, and a meditation. The natural world pictured here is richly various, though Oliver seems most drawn to waterways. All manner of aquatic life--shark and mackerel, duck and egret--accompany her days, along with spiders, foxes, even a bear. Her keen observations come as narrative (following a fox) or as manual (building a house) or as poems masquerading as description ( I have seen bluefish arc and sled across the water, an acre of them, leaping and sliding back under the water, then leaping again, toothy, terrible, lashed by hunger ). When the world of writing enters, currently unfashionable 19th-century writers emerge--Percy Shelley, William Wordsworth, William James--in readings that evade academic textual analyses and share the look-at-what-I-saw tone animating Oliver's observations of the natural world. The message of her book for its readers is a simple and profound one: open your eyes. --Publishers Weekly Part paean to nature and part meditation on the writing life, this elegant and simply written book is a neo-Romantic celebration of life and the pursuit of art that is sure to enchant Oliver's many admirers. A lyrical, tender essay collection. -- Kirkus