Macon-based poet and Mercer University professor Anya Silver died Monday afternoon after a long battle with inflammatory breast cancer. She was originally diagnosed with the illness — the most rare, lethal and aggressive form of breast cancer — in 2004 at the age of 35 when she was pregnant with her first child. Her illness and her struggles to raise her son became the subjects of some of her most moving work across four books of poetry. “Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind,/ that seeks and finds the lymph and blood?” she wrote in “Biopsy,” a poem in her 2010 collection The Ninety-Third Name of God. “Because if I accept this gift,/ I will change, I will vanish from the earth.”
Silver was born in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and completed her undergraduate studies at Haverford College in 1990 before teaching for a year in Mississippi and working at the National Geographic Society Library.
She earned her PhD in English literature from Emory University in 1997 and began teaching at Mercer in 2000. She wrote four books of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God (2010), I Watched You Disappear (2014), From Nothing (2016), and Second Bloom (2017). Her work was published in many literary magazines, including Image, The Harvard Review, The Georgia Review, Five Points, Crazyhorse, New Ohio Review, Witness, The Christian Century, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, Shenandoah and others.
Her work was also included in Best American Poetry 2016 and featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac; in Ted Kooser’s syndicated column, American Life in Poetry; as an Academy of American Poets’ poem of the day; and on Poetry Daily. She also published a book of literary criticism, Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body in 2006.
She was named Georgia Author of the Year for Poetry in 2015 and was named a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow.
She served on the board of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation and became active in the cause of educating people about inflammatory breast and metastatic cancer.
“I am a fighter, mother, wife, writer and teacher,” she wrote for the New York Times in a short personal reflection about her breast cancer in 2013. “Cancer is an enormous part of my life, but I am more than my cancer. I am a whole woman and a whole human being.”
She is survived by her husband, Mercer English professor Andrew Silver, and her son.