Anya Krugovoy Silver was an award-winning poet, scholar, and professor who resided in Georgia for more than half of her life. From 2004 until her death in 2018, she lived with inflammatory breast cancer, an experience she explored in her four collections of poetry. She won the Georgia Author of the Year award in 2015 for her book, I Watched You Disappear, and in 2018, she was named a Guggenheim Fellow for Poetry.
Personal Life and Education
Anya Christine Krugovoy was born in Media, Pennsylvania, on December 22, 1968, to George and Christel Krugovoy. She grew up in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where her Ukrainian father was a professor of Russian literature at Swarthmore College, and her German mother was a child-care provider. As the child of immigrants, her first two languages were German and Russian. She began writing poems in elementary school, and her love for poetry carried on through the rest of her life.
She majored in English and Creative Writing at Haverford College, and after graduating in 1990, taught high school English in Mississippi for a year before enrolling in graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta. At Emory, she met fellow graduate student Andrew Silver, whom she married in 1995. In 1997 she completed her Ph.D. in English literature, and in 1998, she and her husband accepted faculty positions in the English department at Mercer University in Macon, where she would live and teach for the next twenty years. She died of metastatic breast cancer on August 6, 2018.
Silver was pregnant with her only son, Noah, when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in 2004. She began chemotherapy while still pregnant, later describing the experience as an “incredible conflation of life and death.” Though she seldom wrote directly about her son, Silver would explore this dichotomy in all four of her poetry collections. After chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and radiation therapy, Silver’s cancer went into remission for five years, before returning as a bone metastasis in 2010.
A known advocate for metastatic breast cancer research, Silver rejected the “pink-washing” commonly associated with breast cancer awareness campaigns. She also repudiated the battle rhetoric so often invoked by movement supporters, with its implication of winners and losers.
Before committing herself to poetry, Silver enjoyed success as an academic, publishing numerous articles on the representation of women in Victorian literature. Her book, Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2002.
Silver’s debut collection of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God, was published in 2010 by Louisiana State University Press. While some of the poems in the book were written before her diagnosis, the central subject that shapes the book (and each of her subsequent books) is how a life-threatening illness affects one’s spirituality, sexuality, and relationships. The poems do not shy away from presenting the realities of suffering, yet many are infused with joy and gratitude.
Silver’s second book of poetry, I Watched You Disappear (2014), explored similar terrain, grappling with how chronic illness affects faith. By then, Silver’s inflammatory breast cancer had returned and metastasized, and many of the poems reference classic fairy tales to reflect on the primal fear of separation between mother and child. This book earned Silver the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Poetry.
Silver’s third collection, From Nothing (2016), continued in the same vein, addressing illness and grief in an unflinchingly honest tone while embracing the lush, sublime experience of living in the present. In a 2016 interview, Silver discussed her poetic identity:
I consider myself a confessional poet to the degree that my work draws from my life—whose doesn’t? I’m a product of my environment, my relationships, the books that I’ve read. I’m not as confessional to the degree as writers whom we consider “confessional,” like [Sylvia] Plath and [Sharon] Olds, are. But I admire confessional poets, and I think that any good writing about illness has to be confessional to avoid falling into cliché and sentimentality.
For her fourth poetry collection, Second Bloom (2017), Silver opted to publish through Cascade Books, a press primarily known for publishing religious or theological books. She chose to do so in part because she had become known in some artistic circles as a Christian poet, and also so that she could fast-track the book’s publication.
At the time of her death, Silver was editing her fifth manuscript, Saint Agnostica, for which she entrusted her husband to seek posthumous publication. In 2019 Georgia Author of the Year honored Silver with a Posthumous Lifetime Achievement award.