Diane Ackerman

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Diane Ackerman
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Occupation Author
NationalityUnited States

Diane Ackerman (born October 7, 1948) is an American poet, essayist, and naturalist known for her wide-ranging curiosity and poetic explorations of the natural world. [1]

Natural history Study of organisms including plants or animals in their environment

Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment; leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history is called a naturalist or natural historian.


Education and career

Ackerman received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Arts, Master of Fine Arts and Ph.D. from Cornell University. Among the members of her dissertation committee was Carl Sagan, an astronomer and the creator of the Cosmos television series. [2] She has taught at a number of universities, including Columbia and Cornell. [3]

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, sciences, or both. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three to four years depending on the country, institution, and specific specializations, majors, or minors. The word baccalaureus should not be confused with baccalaureatus, which refers to the one- to two-year postgraduate Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in some countries.

Pennsylvania State University Public university with multiple campuses in Pennsylvania, United States

The Pennsylvania State University is a state-related, land-grant, doctoral university with campuses and facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855 as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania, and later known as the University of State College, Penn State conducts teaching, research, and public service. Its instructional mission includes undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education offered through resident instruction and online delivery. Its University Park campus, the flagship campus, lies within the Borough of State College and College Township. It has two law schools: Penn State Law, on the school's University Park campus, and Dickinson Law, located in Carlisle, 90 miles south of State College. The College of Medicine is located in Hershey. Penn State has another 19 commonwealth campuses and 5 special mission campuses located across the state. Penn State has been labeled one of the "Public Ivies," a publicly funded university considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

A Master of Arts is a person who was admitted to a type of master's degree awarded by universities in many countries, and the degree is also named Master of Arts in colloquial speech. The degree is usually contrasted with the Master of Science. Those admitted to the degree typically study linguistics, history, communication studies, diplomacy, public administration, political science, or other subjects within the scope of the humanities and social sciences; however, different universities have different conventions and may also offer the degree for fields typically considered within the natural sciences and mathematics. The degree can be conferred in respect of completing courses and passing examinations, research, or a combination of the two.

Her essays have appeared in The New York Times , Smithsonian , Parade , The New Yorker , National Geographic , and many other journals. [4] Her research has taken her to such diverse locales as Mata Atlantic in Brazil (working with endangered golden lion tamarins), Patagonia (right whales), Hawaii (humpback whales), California (tagging monarch butterflies at their overwintering sites), French Frigate Shoals (monk seals), Toroshima, Japan (short-tailed albatross), Texas (with Bat Conservation International), the Amazon rainforest, and Antarctica (penguins). [5] [6] In 1986, she was a semi-finalist for NASA's Journalist-in-Space Project [7] —this program was cancelled after the Space Shuttle Challenger (carrying Christa McAuliffe as a payload specialist with the Teacher in Space Project) disaster. [8] A molecule has been named after her—dianeackerone—a crocodilian sex pheromone. [9]

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.

<i>Parade</i> (magazine) American Sunday newspaper magazine

Parade is an American nationwide Sunday newspaper magazine, distributed in more than 700 newspapers in the United States. It was founded in 1941 and is owned by Athlon Media Group, which purchased it from Advance Publications. The most widely read magazine in the U.S., Parade has a circulation of 32 million and a readership of 54.1 million. As of 2015, its editor is Anne Krueger.

<i>The New Yorker</i> Magazine on politics, social issues, art, humor, and culture, based in New York City

The New Yorker is an American magazine featuring journalism, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons, and poetry. Started as a weekly in 1925, the magazine is now published 47 times annually, with five of these issues covering two-week spans. Although its reviews and events listings often focus on the cultural life of New York City, The New Yorker has a wide audience outside New York and is read internationally. It is well known for its illustrated and often topical covers, its commentaries on popular culture and eccentric Americana, its attention to modern fiction by the inclusion of short stories and literary reviews, its rigorous fact checking and copy editing, its journalism on politics and social issues, and its single-panel cartoons sprinkled throughout each issue.

A collection of her manuscripts, writings and papers (the Diane Ackerman Papers, 1971–1997—Collection No. 6299) is housed at the Cornell University Library. [10]


Her works of nonfiction include, most recently, The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, which celebrates nature, human ingenuity, and explores how we've become the dominant force of change on the planet; [11] [12] her memoir One Hundred Names for Love, about stroke, aphasia, and healing; [13] [14] Dawn Light, a poetic meditation on dawn and awakening; [15] [16] The Zookeeper's Wife, narrative nonfiction set in Warsaw during World War II, a tale of people, animals, and subversive acts of compassion; [17] [18] An Alchemy of Mind about the marvels and mysteries of the brain, based on modern neuroscience; [19] Cultivating Delight, a natural history of her garden; [20] Deep Play, which considers play, creativity, and our need for transcendence; [21] A Slender Thread, about her work as a crisis line counselor; [22] [23] The Rarest of the Rare and The Moon by Whale Light, in which she explores the plight and fascination of endangered animals; [24] [25] A Natural History of Love, a literary tour of love's many facets; [26] On Extended Wings, her memoir of flying; [27] and A Natural History of the Senses, an exploration of the five senses. [28] [29]

Stroke Medical condition where poor blood flow to the brain causes cell death

A stroke is a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, due to bleeding. Both result in parts of the brain not functioning properly. Signs and symptoms of a stroke may include an inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems understanding or speaking, dizziness, or loss of vision to one side. Signs and symptoms often appear soon after the stroke has occurred. If symptoms last less than one or two hours it is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke may also be associated with a severe headache. The symptoms of a stroke can be permanent. Long-term complications may include pneumonia or loss of bladder control.

Aphasia is an inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions. This damage is typically caused by a cerebral vascular accident (stroke), or head trauma; however, these are not the only possible causes. To be diagnosed with aphasia, a person's speech or language must be significantly impaired in one of the four communication modalities following acquired brain injury or have significant decline over a short time period. The four communication modalities are auditory comprehension, verbal expression, reading and writing, and functional communication.

Warsaw City metropolis in Masovia, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.780 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union. The city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi). Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historical Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Her poetry has been published in leading literary journals, and in collections, including Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems. [30] Her first book of poetry, The Planets, A Cosmic Pastoral was gifted by Carl Sagan to Timothy Leary while Leary was imprisoned. [31] Her verse play, Reverse Thunder, celebrates the passionate and tragic life of the 17th century nun, and fellow poet and naturalist, Juana Inés de la Cruz. [32] Ackerman also writes nature books for children. [33]

Carl Sagan American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science educator

Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences. He is best known for his work as a science popularizer and communicator. His best known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. Sagan assembled the first physical messages sent into space: the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them. Sagan argued the now accepted hypothesis that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect.

Timothy Leary American psychologist

Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer known for advocating the exploration of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions.

Juana Inés de la Cruz Nun, scholar and poet in New Spain

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H., was a self-taught scholar and student of scientific thought, philosopher, composer, and poet of the Baroque school, and Hieronymite nun of New Spain (Mexico). Her outspoken opinions granted her lifelong names such as, "The Tenth Muse", "The Phoenix of America", or the "Mexican Phoenix".


A movie adaptation of Ackerman's book, The Zookeeper's Wife , starring Jessica Chastain as Antonina Żabińska, was released in the US on March 31, 2017. [34] More photos of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of The Zookeeper's Wife may be seen at the website called "The House Under the Crazy Star". [35]

In 1995, Ackerman hosted a five-part Nova miniseries, Mystery of the Senses , based on her book, A Natural History of the Senses . [36] On Extended Wings was adapted for the stage by Norma Jean Giffin, and was performed at the William Redfield Theater in New York City (1987). [37] A musical adaptation (by Paul Goldstaub) of her dramatic poem, Reverse Thunder, was performed at Old Dominion University (1992). [38]

Awards and honors

In 2015, Ackerman's The Human Age won the National Outdoor Book Award in the Natural History Literature category [39] and PEN New England's Henry David Thoreau Prize for nature writing. [40] In 2012, she was a finalist for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award for One Hundred Names for Love. [41] [42] The Zookeeper's Wife received an Orion Book Award in 2008. [43] She has received a D. Lit from Kenyon College, Guggenheim Fellowship, John Burroughs Nature Award, Lavan Poetry Prize, and has been honored as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library. [44] Ackerman has had three New York Times bestsellers: The Human Age (2014), The Zookeeper's Wife (2008), and A Natural History of the Senses (1990). [45] [46] [47] She is a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities.

Personal life

Ackerman was married to the novelist Paul West. She lives in Ithaca, New York.

Selected bibliography

The Great Affair
The great affair, the love affair with life,
is to live as variously as possible,
to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred,
climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day..
It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery,
but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.

— Diane Ackerman, "found poetry" from A Natural History of the Senses [48]



Children's books


  1. Ackerman, Diane. "The Poetry Foundation" . Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  2. Richards, Linda L. (August 1999). "Interview: Diane Ackerman". January Magazine . Retrieved 2013-08-31. I didn't want to be a scientist. I just felt that the universe wasn't knowable from only one perspective. I wanted to be able to go exploring: follow my curiosity in both worlds. So I had a poet on my doctoral committee. And I had a scientist -- Carl Sagan. And I had someone in comparative literature. Essentially, they all ran interference for me so that I could -- ultimately -- write a dissertation that was about the metaphysical mind: science and art and be teaching and be in school while I was writing books.
  3. Ackerman, Diane. "The Poetry Foundation" . Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  4. Granucci, Alison. "Diane Ackerman". Blue Flower Arts Literary Speakers Agency. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  5. Ackerman, Diane (1991). The Moon By Whale Light. New York: Random House.
  6. Ackerman, Diane (1995). The Rarest of the Rare. New York: Random House.
  7. "Journalist in Space". World Space Flight. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  8. Rosenstiel, Thomas. "Journalist-in-Space Plan Postponed Indefinitely". LA Times. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  9. Whyte, Authrine; et al. "Reptilian Chemistry: Characterization of dianeackerone, a secretory product from a crocodile". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  10. Ackerman, Diane. "Collected Papers". Cornell University Library.
  11. Nixon, Rob. "Future Footprints". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  12. Hirtle, Stephen C. "'The Human Age': Diane Ackerman Explains How We Are Creating Our Future". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  13. Verghese, Abraham. "How Language Heals". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  14. McAlpin, Heller. "In "One Hundred Names for Love," Diane Ackerman explains the effects of a massive stroke on her writer-husband"". The Washington Post Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  15. Smith, Wendy. "'Dawn Light' by Diane Ackerman". The Washington Post Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  16. "Dawn Light: Dancing With Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day". Kirkus. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  17. Max, D.T. "Antonina's List". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  18. Seaman, Donna. "Strange Sanctuary". The Los Angeles Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  19. Warner, Marina. "Circuits". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  20. Seymour, Miranda. "'Cultivating Delight': A Poet's Green Plot". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  21. Gallagher, Winifred. "May the Force Be With You". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  22. "A Slender Thread". Kirkus. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  23. Popova, Maria. "Diane Ackerman on What Working at a Suicide Prevention Hotline Taught Her About the Human Spirit". Brainpickings. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  24. "The Rarest of the Rare". Kirkus. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  25. "The Moon by Whale Light and other Adventures among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales". Kirkus. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  26. Popova, Maria. "A Natural History of Love". Brainpickings. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  27. "On Extended Wings: An Adventure in Flight". Kirkus. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  28. Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. "Books of the Times: A Sensualist's Ramble in the Realm of the Senses". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  29. Popova, Maria. "The Science of Smell: How the Most Direct of Our Senses Works". Brainpickings. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  30. Kirby, David. "Home and Hut". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  31. Popova, Maria. "Cosmic Pastoral: Diane Ackerman's Poems for the Planets, Which Carl Sagan Sent Timothy Leary in Prison". Brainpickings. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  32. Ackerman, Diane. "Official Website" . Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  33. Stark, Monica. "Child of the Senses". January Magazine. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  34. "The Zookeeper's Wife". Internet Movie Database.
  35. "The House Under the Crazy Star". POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  36. "Mystery of the Senses". NOVA Online.
  37. Holden, Stephen. "Stage: 'Extended Wings' Uses Flight As A Metaphor". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  38. Fifteen Annual Literary Arts Festival, Video Archive. "Diane Ackerman's Reverse Thunder". Old Dominion University. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  39. "2015 National Outdoor Book Award". National Outdoor Book Award (NOBA). Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  40. "Henry David Thoreau Prize". P.E.N. New England. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  41. "Nonfiction Prize 2012". Pulitzer. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  42. "2011 Finalists NBCC Award". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  43. "2008 Orion Book Award". Orion Magazine. April 1, 2008.
  44. "Diane Ackerman". Official website. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  45. "Literary Sojourn" . Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  46. "W.W. Norton Publisher". Website.
  47. "Diane Ackerman". Official website.
  48. Ackerman, Diane (1990). A Natural History of the Senses. Vintage. p. 309. ISBN   0-679-73566-6.

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