Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: State College, Centre County
Awards: Public Poetry Project of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book
Poet and philosopher Emily Rolfe Grosholz was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 17, 1950. An avid student of literature, philosophy, and mathematics, Grosholz has spent significant time and energy learning, researching, and instructing at many different educational institutions around the world, including Pennsylvania State University. She has received numerous academic accolades and published many works, which range from collections of poetry to books on the philosophical principles and development of math and science.
Emily Rolfe Grosholz was born to parents Frances Skerrett Grosholz and Edwin DeHaven Grosholz on October 17, 1950. She was born in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Strafford, Pennsylvania, attending Conestoga High School. Poetry and literature were present in Grosholz’s world from a very early age; she recalls literary ties in her family as far back as her great-great-grandfather writing sonnets, and both of her parents would often put pen to paper. Her interest in literature developed while reading the classics in grade school and writing short lines of poetry. Her interest in other cultures was also fostered when she began learning French in the third grade.
Even before her college career, Grosholz knew that poetry would be a lifelong passion. However, she discovered that the sciences and mathematics also interested her. Grosholz studied at the University of Chicago, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Ideas and Methods in 1972. This education fostered her integrative views about knowledge and creativity, something she attributes to the “Great Books” program the school taught at the time. During her time at Yale University, she was awarded a Danforth Fellowship, and used this funding to study overseas at Universität Münster (University of Münster).
Grosholz earned her PhD in philosophy at Yale University two years later. During her last two years in New Haven, she also ran a poetry series at the Down To Earth Café. This work acquainted her with many other students and writers, including Frederick Morgan, and the two editors of The Hudson Review who would later hire Grosholz as an advisory editor.
At the time of this writing, Grosholz is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy at Penn State University and has been at the University since 1979. In addition, she is an affiliate in both the English and African American Studies departments. She has traveled to many countries in her pursuit of knowledge and education. She spent several summers in Germany at the Leibniz Archiv (Leibniz Archive) of the State Library of Lower Saxony, helping collect, archive, and publish complete collections of Leibniz’s work. She often describes Leibniz as her “favorite philosopher,” due to his broad range of interests, from political engagement to scientific studies and mathematics. She is a member of the Gottfried-Wilhelm Leibniz Gesellschaft (Leibniz Archive Society) and of the editorial board of Studia Leibnitiana.
Grosholz released the poetry collection The River Painter in 1984, soon followed by Shores and Headlands (1988), Eden (1992), The Abacus of Years (2002), and others. She also published books about the development of mathematical and scientific knowledge as well as philosophical theories about rationality, with publications such as Cartesian Method and the Problem of Reduction (1991), Logic and Knowledge (2011), and Great Circles: The Transits of Mathematics and Poetry (2018). In addition to these works, Grosholz has had many pieces published in literary and philosophical journals.
One of the unique traits of Grosholz’s work, especially her poetry, is its interdisciplinary inspiration. Her poetry is an amalgam of knowledge she has pulled from her past and connected in fascinating ways, from mathematics to philosophy, from history to language, and from her travels to her personal life. This interdisciplinary focus is important to Grosholz, who is a member of the Bridges Organization, a group that aims to bring math and art together. She stresses that her family and friends also have a central role in her poetry, as well as those she has loved in the past.
Grosholz has a prolific career as an editor for the academic work of others. This career began in 1984, when she became an advisory editor for The Hudson Review, a position she continues to hold at the time of this writing. Her essay collection Reflections on Poetry and the World: Walking Along the Hudson (2020), is in part a tribute to her years at the publication. In addition, she has been an editor for the Journal of the History of Ideas starting in 1998, and for the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics starting in 2011. She has served as editor for several books of other authors’ works about philosophers she admires, including W.E.B. DuBois on Race and Culture (co-edited with J. Stewart and B. Bell, 1997) and The Legacy of Simone de Beauvoir (2004).
The eclectic nature of Grosholz’s work extends into her career as an educator and researcher. Classes she has taught include African American Philosophy, Philosophy of Nature, Creative Writing, Early Modern Philosophy, and Philosophy of Science. The research Grosholz has conducted ranges from language use in debate and discourse to the philosophy of mathematics and beyond. In addition to the Leibniz Archive in Germany, her research has taken her to Greece, France, England, Japan, and Russia, as well as across the United States. Her book Childhood (poems about her four children, 2014) was created to support UNICEF and has been translated into over five languages.
Grosholz married Robert R. Edwards in 1987, and together they have raised four children in the State College area. The two met just over a year before their marriage while she was working at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina on a grant from Penn State University. The couple raised their children to be academically curious and well-rounded individuals, often bringing them along when their studies took them overseas. Emily Grosholz lives in State College at the time of this writing with her husband, continuing to teach and research at the intersections of multiple disciplines.
The River Painter. Champaign, U of Illinois P, 1984.
The Stars of the Earth: New and Selected Poems. San Jose: Word Galaxy Press, 2017.