Ellen Bass

Award-winning Poet
Renowned Teacher
Lambda Lit Award
Bestseller: Courage to Heal

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Writing as Tool for Self-Realization
  • The Courage to Heal
  • Controlled Chaos
  • An Evening with Ellen Bass

“Ellen Bass writes of ordinary life with a fierce and loving passion.” —Linda Pastan

“Good poets help us to see the world in a new way; great ones open the mind to new ways of conceiving that world and our connections to it. Ellen Bass does this for me.” —Toi Derricotte

Poet and educator Ellen Bass is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is the author of eight poetry collections, including Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), which The New York Times notes “pulses with sex, humor and compassion” and which was a finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, The Publishers Triangle Award, The Milt Kessler Poetry Award, The Lambda Literary Award, and the Northern California Book Award; The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle; Mules of Love (BOA Editions, 2002), which won The Lambda Literary Award; and I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter (1973). Also in 1973, she co-edited with Florence Howe the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks!.

Bass’s style is direct; she has noted, “I work to speak in a voice that is meaningful communication. Poetry is the most intimate of all writing. I want to speak from me to myself and then from me to you.”

Bass has also written works of nonfiction, including, with Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins 1988, 20th anniversary edition 2008), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into twelve languages. As a pioneer in the field of healing from child sexual abuse, Bass has given countless keynotes at conferences and other gatherings in support of survivors and to help educate professionals. Her other nonfiction titles include Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Men and Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children (2003, revised edition 2008) and Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth—and Their Allies (HarperCollins, 1996), which she wrote with Kate Kaufman.

A beloved teacher, Bass leads poetry writing workshops across the country. A recent student, Pamela Davis, author of Lunette, which won the ABZ Prize for Poetry, has said, “The greatest strides I’ve made in my creative journey have been the direct result of studying with Ellen. She brings every aspect of craft to the table and has an astute understanding of what makes a poem work, with attention to word, line, tone, and shape. She listens with mind and heart, and responds with precision. Ellen takes the work seriously, but keeps the mood fun and light. If you’re just beginning, blocked, or an advanced poet seeking to stretch in new directions, I recommend you get to know Ellen Bass.”

Her poems have frequently appeared in The New Yorker and The American Poetry Review, as well as in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, The Sun and hundreds of other journals and anthologies. She has received Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council and received the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, and three Pushcart Prizes.

Bass earned an MA in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. She founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and the Santa Cruz, CA jails. She currently teaches in the low residency MFA writing program at Pacific University. Bass grew up in New Jersey and lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Ellen Bass’s website

Poet and educator Ellen Bass is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent book of poetry, Like a Beggar, was a finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, The Publishers Triangle Award, The Milt Kessler Poetry Award, The Lambda Literary Award, and the Northern California Book Award. Previous books include The Human Line and Mules of Love, which won The Lambda Literary Award. Bass has also written works of nonfiction, including, with Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into twelve languages. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.

LIKE A BEGGAR (Poetry, 2014)
Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist in 2015, Like a Beggar is the work of a mature poet grappling with the most essential question—how do we go on? In the face of sorrow and suffering, with the ever-present awareness of our mortality and the increasing threat of environmental devastation, how do we find the courage to fully inhabit the moments of our lives? Mixing revelation and humor, despair and awe, whimsy and intelligence, Bass holds a mirror of unflinching compassion in which we see our flawed and exquisitely beautiful selves.

THE HUMAN LINE (Poetry, 2007)
The Human Line, Bass’ seventh book of poems, startles with its precise detail, intimate images, and wild metaphors. Bass brings attention to life’s endearing absurdities, and many of the poems flash with a keen sense of humor. She also faces many of the crucial moral dilemmas of our time–genetic engineering, environmental issues, continuous war, heterosexism–and grounds her vision in the small, private workings of the heart.

MULES OF LOVE (Poetry, 2002)
Balancing heart-intelligent intimacy and surprising humor, the poems in Ellen Bass’s Mules of Love illuminate the essential dynamics of our lives: family, community, sexual love, joy, loss, religion and death. The poems also explore the darker aspects of humanity–personal, cultural, historical and environmental violence–all of which are handled with compassion and grace. Bass’s poetic gift is her ability to commiserate with others afflicted by similar hungers and grief. Her poem “Insomnia” concludes: “may something/ comfort you–a mockingbird, a breeze, rain/ on the roof, Chopin’s Nocturnes, the thought/ of your child’s birth, a kiss, / or even me–in my chilly kitchen/ with my coat on–thinking of you.”

Co-authored with Laura Davis
The Courage to Heal is an inspiring, comprehensive guide that offers hope and encouragement to every woman who was sexually abused as a child – and those who care about her. Although the effects of child sexual abuse are long-term and severe, healing is possible. The authors weave personal experience with professional knowledge to show the reader how she can come to terms with her past while moving powerfully into the future. They provide clear explanations, practical suggestions, a map of the healing journey, and many moving first-person examples of the recovery process drawn from their interviews with hundreds of survivors.

Co-authored with Kate Kaufman
Free Your Mind speaks to the basic aspects of the lives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth: self-discovery, friends and lovers, family, school, spirituality, and community. Alive with the voices of more than fifty young people, rich in accurate information and positive practical advice, Free Your Mind talks about how to come out, deal with problems, make healthy choices about relationships and sex, connect with other gay youth and supportive adults, and take pride and participate in the gay and lesbian community. Free Your Mind also presents detailed guidance for adults who want to make the world safer for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth.

Co-edited with Louise Thornton, Jude Brister, Grace Hammond, Jean Huntley, and Vicki Lamb.
In this book, 34 women tell how they were molested by fathers, uncles, neighbors, and strangers and how they survived. A reissue of the now-classic anthology of deeply moving testimonies by survivors of child sexual abuse — with a new afterword by Ellen Bass.

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up—drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.


For months my daughter carried
a dead monarch in a quart mason jar.
To and from school in her backpack,
to her only friend’s house. At the dinner table
it sat like a guest alongside the pot roast.
She took it to bed, propped by her pillow.

Was it the year her brother was born?
Was this her own too-fragile baby
that had lived—so briefly—in its glassed world?
Or the year she refused to go to her father’s house?
Was this the holding-her-breath girl she became there?

This plump child in her rolled-down socks
I sometimes wanted to haul back inside me
and carry safe again. What was her fierce
commitment? I never understood.
We just lived with the dead winged thing
as part of her, as part of us,
weightless in its heavy jar.