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]

Diane Ackerman
Born (1948-10-07) October 7, 1948 (age 75)
EducationPennsylvania State University (BA)
Cornell University (MA, MFA, PhD)

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]

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]

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]

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]



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 (1930–2015).[48] She lives in Ithaca, New York.[49]

Selected works


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[50]


  • The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (1976)
  • Wife of Light (1978)
  • Lady Faustus (1983)
  • Reverse Thunder (1988)
  • Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems (1991) ISBN 9780307763389
  • I Praise My Destroyer (1998) ISBN 9780307763372
  • Origami Bridges (2002)



Children's books

  • Monk Seal Hideaway (1995)
  • Bats: Shadows in the Night (1997)
  • Animal Sense (poetry), illustrated by Peter Sis. (2003) ISBN 9780375923845


  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. ISBN 9780394585741.
  6. ^ Ackerman, Diane (1995). The Rarest of the Rare. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780679403463.
  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 (5 September 2014). "Future Footprints". The New York Times. 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 (15 April 2011). "How Language Heals". The New York Times. 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. (9 September 2007). "Antonina's List". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  18. ^ Seaman, Donna (2 September 2007). "Strange Sanctuary". The Los Angeles Times Book Review. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  19. ^ Warner, Marina (29 August 2004). "Circuits". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  20. ^ Seymour, Miranda (21 October 2001). "'Cultivating Delight': A Poet's Green Plot". The New York Times. 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 (14 November 2014). "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 (29 April 2013). "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 (2 August 1990). "Books of the Times: A Sensualist's Ramble in the Realm of the Senses". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  29. ^ Popova, Maria (10 April 2014). "The Science of Smell: How the Most Direct of Our Senses Works". Brainpickings. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  30. ^ Kirby, David (3 November 1991). "Home and Hut". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  31. ^ Popova, Maria (19 February 2013). "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". Archived from the original on 19 December 2021. 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 (26 April 1987). "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. Archived from the original on 26 March 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  41. ^ "Nonfiction Prize 2012". Pulitzer. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  42. ^ "2011 Finalists NBCC Award". National Book Critics Circle. Archived from the original on July 30, 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  43. ^ "2008 Orion Book Award". Orion Magazine. April 1, 2008. Archived from the original on May 17, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2008.
  44. ^ "Diane Ackerman". Official website. Archived from the original on 23 November 2020. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  45. ^ "Literary Sojourn". Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  46. ^ "W.W. Norton Publisher". Website.
  47. ^ "Diane Ackerman". Official website. Archived from the original on 2022-05-15. Retrieved 2015-02-15.
  48. ^ Grimes, William (2015-10-22). "Paul West, Writer Who Shoveled Absurdity Into His Books, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  49. ^ "Diane Ackerman". Poetry Foundation. 2021-05-23. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  50. ^ Ackerman, Diane (1990). A Natural History of the Senses. Vintage. p. 309. ISBN 0-679-73566-6.
  51. ^ Quammen, David (December 29, 1991). "Up to Her Elbow in Alligators (review of The Moond by Whalelight)". The New York Times on the Web.
  52. ^ Seymour, Miranda (October 21, 2001). "Review of Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden by Diane Ackerman". The New York Times. p. 17, section 7.
  53. ^ Nixon, Rob (September 5, 2014). "Future Footprints (review of The Human Age by Diane Ackerman)". The New York Times.

Further reading

  • Becher, Anne, and Joseph Richey, American Environmental Leaders: From Colonial Times to the Present (2 vol, 2nd ed. 2008) vol 1 online p. 4.