Article

Anne Sexton

Linda Wagner-Martin

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0031
Anne Sexton

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Anne Gray Harvey Sexton (b. 1928–d. 1974), born in Newton, Massachusetts, was the third daughter of an established and moderately wealthy family. One ancestor had been the governor of Maine, and her grandfather was editor of the Lewiston Evening Journal. Women’s lives in the family were more ornamental than professional, and the beautiful Anne saw no route into a career. In 1948 she eloped with Alfred Sexton, a wool merchant like her father, after she had attended a finishing school in Boston. The Sextons had two children, Linda and Joy, and, after each was born, in 1953 and in 1955, Anne experienced breakdowns—the term “postpartum depression” was not yet common. During her hospitalizations, her mother-in-law cared for the little girls. But after her suicide attempt in 1956, her therapist suggested that Anne begin writing; language interested her. Her career as a poet began then, aided by her close friendship with the poet and novelist Maxine Kumin; writing courses with John Holmes and Robert Lowell; and friendships with George Starbuck, Sylvia Plath, and others. Instant publication led to instant recognition that Sexton was a unique “confessional poet,” and in 1960 her first book of poems appeared. To Bedlam and Part Way Back launched what became a truly meteoric career. All My Pretty Ones followed in 1962, and Sexton brought out Selected Poems in 1964. In 1966 her third collection, Live or Die, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. By the time of this award Sexton was in demand for poetry readings. Her performative abilities brought out the remarkably distinctive voices of the poems. A Sexton reading became an experience, and she grew to be something of a rock star in the poetry world. Always restless, she sought comfort through love affairs, alcohol, therapy, and her steadfast friendship with Kumin, whose house was connected with hers by a private telephone line. Sexton had won fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute; she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London; she was nominated for the National Book Award; she taught at Harvard and Radcliffe, lectured at Breadloaf, held the Crashaw Chair at Colgate University, and was a full professor at Boston University. She was the Phi Beta Kappa poet at Harvard. Pressure to continue these successes coupled with unsatisfactory psychiatric counseling and a divorce from her husband in 1973 led to increasing instability, and in November 1974 Sexton committed suicide.

Article.  9977 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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