Rachel Zucker was born during a snowstorm in New York City in 1971. The daughter of storyteller Diane Wolkstein and novelist Benjamin Zucker, she was raised in Greenwich Village and traveled around the world with her parents on Wolkstein’s folktale-collecting trips. After high school, Zucker attended Yale where she majored in Psychology, focusing on Child Development but taking as many literature, writing and photography classes as she was allowed. After Yale, Zucker attended the University of Iowa where she received her M.F.A in poetry.
Zucker’s first full-length collection is Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan Press, 2003), a series of poems that follows the narrative arc of the myth of Persephone. Her second collection, The Last Clear Narrative, (Wesleyan, 2004) is a cross examination of marriage and motherhood. Her third collection, The Bad Wife Handbook (Wesleyan, 2007), is a darkly comic contemplation of married life. Zucker’s fourth collection, Museum of Accidents, (Wave Books, 2009) was named one of the best books of poetry in 2009 by Publishers Weekly and was named a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 2014 Zucker published a memoir, MOTHERs (Counterpath Press), which details the story of her relationship with her own mother and analyzes what it meant to take the female poets who inspired and mentored her—Brenda Hillman, Jorie Graham, Alice Notley and others—as supplementary maternal forces.
Her double collection of poetry and prose, The Pedestrians (Wave Books) is forthcoming and has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.
With poet Arielle Greenberg, Zucker co-edited two anthologies: Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections, (Iowa Press, 2008) an anthology of essays by younger women poets about mentorship and Starting Today: 100 Poems for Obama’s First 100 Days (Iowa Press, 2010). Greenberg and Zucker also co-wrote Home/Birth: a poemic (1913 Press, 2010), a non-fiction book about birth, friendship and feminism.
Zucker is the winner of the 1999 Salt Hill Poetry Award (judged by C.D. Wright) and the 2000 Barrow Street Poetry Prize. In 2002 she won the Center for Book Arts Award (judged by Lynn Emanuel) for her long poem, “Annunciation,” which was published as a limited edition chapbook designed by Roni Gross. In 2003 she won the Strousse Award from Prairie Schooner for best group of poems. Also in 2003 she was selected by the Poetry Society of America to participate in their first Festival of New American Poets. In 2012 Zucker was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
Zucker’s poems have appeared in many journals including: 3rd Bed, American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Columbia Review, Court Green, Epoch, Fence, Iowa Review, Pleiades and Prairie Schooner as well as in several anthologies including Not for Mothers Only, Legitimate Dangers, Best American Poetry 2001 and Best American Poetry 2014.
After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1996, Zucker moved back to New York. For several years she taught Prose Composition at NYU’s General Studies Program. She also taught a residential college seminar called “The Art of Poetic Dialogue” at Yale three times between 1997 and 2000 (click here to download the syllabus). During this time Zucker also worked as a gem-merchant and a freelance photographer. She founded and facilitated a peer poetry group that met periodically for over ten years and she edited Boomerang! A Contributors’ Journal. From 2005-2007 Zucker was the poet in residence at Fordham where she taught undergraduate courses in Composition, Literature and Poetry as well as two graduate poetry workshops.
In 2004, inspired by the invitation to attend a friend’s homebirth, Zucker became interested in the politics and practices of birth. She trained with Ilana Stein to become a labor doula and was certified by DONA (Doulas of North America) in 2005, recertified in 2007. Zucker attended births at home, at hospitals and at a birthing center and became a self-appointed birth activist, working to ensure better maternity services for all families. In 2007 Zucker gave birth to her third son, at home, in the water. Shortly after that she began a two-year program through the Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York to become a childbirth educator.
Zucker continues to write poems and prose. She offers readings, lectures and master classes for college classes, adult groups and school-aged children. She teaches graduate and undergraduate poetry classes at New York University’s Creative Writing Program. She is also working on a series of lectures for The Bagley Wright Poetry Lecture Series on Poetry.