From left, Galway Kinnell, Robert Hass, Olds, and Brenda Hillman in the Oakley house at the Community of Writers, Olympic Valley, California, 1989. Courtesy of Sharon Olds and the Community of Writers.
Sharon Olds published her first book, Satan Says, in 1980, at the age of thirty-seven. The book is organized into four sections, “Daughter,” “Woman,” “Mother,” and “Journey,” and it begins with its title poem, whose speaker is locked in a box she can open only by repeating after Satan: “Say shit, say death, say fuck the father.” At the time, Olds—who was born in San Francisco, graduated from Stanford, and received a Ph.D. in English from Columbia—was married to a psychiatrist, and she spent her days on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, caring for their two young children. Not long after the book’s publication, she told me last year, someone who had invited her to give a reading picked her up at the airport and said, “I thought you would look angrier.”