Sylvia Plath was an American poet born on October 27, 1932, in Boston, MA, to Otto Emil Plath and Aurelia Schober Plath. Her father was a professor of biology and a German immigrant who studied bees, and published the 1934 work, Bumblebees and Their Ways. Her brother, Warren Plath, was born in 1935. In 1936, the Plath family moved from 24 Prince Street in Jamaica Plain, MA, to 92 Johnson Avenue in Winthrop, MA. At the age of eight, Sylvia published her first poem in the children’s section of the Boston Herald. This began Plath’s lifelong career of writing and publishing, and throughout her life she won multiple awards for her poetry and prose. Plath began keeping a journal at age 11, and also began painting at this time. 

 

Otto Plath died of complications from diabetes a few days after Plath’s eighth birthday. This event greatly impacted her life, and many of her works deal with the loss of her father, such as her poem, “Electra on Azalea Path,” written after visiting her father’s grave. In 1942, the Plath family moved to 26 Elmwood Road in Wellesley, MA, where Plath attended Bradford Senior High School and graduated in 1950. Her first national publication in the Christian Science Monitor was printed following her graduation. She attended Smith College in Northampton, MA, funded by the novelist Olive Higgins Prouty. During her junior year, she won a prestigious guest editorship at Mademoiselle magazine, and spent a month in New York City. She was disillusioned by her time there. During the summer of 1953, she experienced mental health issues, and attempted suicide on August 24, 1953. She was treated at McLean Hospital by Dr. Ruth Beuscher, using both insulin shock therapy and electroconvulsive therapy. The events surrounding her experience at Mademoiselle, as well as her recovery at McLean, are fictionalized in her 1963 novel, The Bell Jar.

 

She completed her studies at Smith and won a Fulbright scholarship to study at Newnham, an all-girls college at the University of Cambridge. Plath met the English poet Ted Hughes on February 25, 1956, and a few months later were married in London. They spent their honeymoon in Paris and Spain. In June 1957, Plath and Hughes moved to the US, where Plath taught English courses at Smith. She didn’t enjoy teaching, and instead wanted to focus more of her energies on writing. Plath and Hughes moved to Boston, where Plath attended creative writing seminars given by Robert Lowell. She also met fellow poet Anne Sexton at Lowell’s seminars. Both Lowell and Sexton encouraged Plath to write about her life experiences, and eventually Plath, Lowell, and Sexton would become known as the “confessional” school of poetry. 

 

Plath and Hughes moved back to England in December 1959, living at 3 Chalcot Square in London. Plath’s daughter, Frieda Rebecca Hughes, was born on April 1, 1960. In October 1960, Plath’s first collection of poetry, The Colossus, was published. In August 1961, the family moved to Court Green in Devon. Plath’s son, Nicholas Farrar Hughes, was born on January 17, 1962. In October 1962, Plath experienced a burst of productivity, and wrote 26 poems that would eventually create much of her final work, Ariel. In December 1962, Plath moved to London with Frieda and Nicholas and lived in 23 Fitzroy Road, William Butler Yeats’s previous home. The winter of 1962/1963 was quite cold, and Plath and her children would often get sick during this time. The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in January 1963. On February 11, 1963, Plath took her life after months of living with mental health difficulties.

 

Plath’s Works:

 

Poetry:

  • The Colossus and Other Poems (1960)

  • Ariel (1965)

  • Three Women: A Monologue for Three Voices (1968)

  • Crossing the Water (1971)

  • Winter Trees (1971)

  • The Collected Poems (1981)

  • Selected Poems (1985)

  • Ariel: The Restored Edition (2004)

 

Prose:

  • The Bell Jar (1963)

  • Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963 (1975)

  • Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts (1977)

  • The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982)

  • The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000)

  • The Letters of Sylvia Plath, vols. 1 and 2 (2017, 2018)

 

Children’s stories:

  • The Bed Book (1976)

  • The It-Doesn’t-Matter-Suit (1996)

  • Mrs. Cherry’s Kitchen (2001)

  • Collected Children’s Stories (2001)

 

Biographies of Plath:

  • Sylvia Plath by Peter K. Steinberg

  • Rough Magic by Paul Alexander

  • Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson

  • Sylvia Plath by Linda Wagner-Martin

  • These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath by Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg

  • Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath (forthcoming) by Heather Clark

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