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Creator / Anne Sexton

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"You said the anger would come back just as the love did."

"A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands
weren't enough; as if mourners and gossips
and vegetables were never enough.
She thinks she can warm the stars.
A writer is essentially a spy.
Dear love, I am that girl."
Anne Sexton, from The Black Art

Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928 – October 4, 1974) was an American poet known for being one of the major figures of confessional poetry or "confessionalism", a style of poetry that focuses on very personal topics, like mental illness, sexuality, suicide, and others. Other figures that would be associated with this movement include Robert Lowel and Sylvia Plath.

She was born Anne Gray Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts, on November 9, 1928, the third daughter of Ralph Churchill Harvey and Mary Gray Staples Harvey. Ralph owned a profitable wool garnetting business and grew prosperous during the Second World War making blankets and uniform cloth, while Mary was the daughter of a small-town newspaper editor. She spent her childhood in Boston, staffed with servants, but despite this, she described her childhood as lonely; her closest friend was her great-aunt Anna Ladd Dingley, or "Nana", who lived with the Harveys until she went mad and was sent to a nursing home, when Anne was thirteen.

In 1945, Harvey enrolled at Rogers Hall boarding school in Lowell, then a year at Garland School, and she described her adolescence as "boy crazy". On August 16, 1948, she eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II, or "Kayo", as she would call him, and took the name "Sexton". During the Korean War, Kayo spent two years in the Navy. In the meantime, Sexton worked in a bookstore and modeled for Boston's Hart Agency. Upon returning home, Kayo became a road salesman for Ralph Harve's wool business, and the Sextons had two daughters: Linda Gray, born in 1953, and Joyce Ladd, in 1955.

Sexton had severe bipolar disorder for much of her life, having a manic episode in 1954. After the birth of Joyce Ladd, Sexton began receiving regular psychiatric treatment, and her literary career began when one of her doctors suggested that she write poetry as a form of therapy. With that, Sexton eventually published her first work of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), to critical acclaim. Sexton received many accolades for her work during her life; she was the first woman to be a member of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa. To Bedlam and Part Way Back and All My Pretty Ones (1962) were finalists for the National Book Awards, and Live or Die (1966) was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967. Her play, 45 Mercy Street (published posthumously 1976), had a successful off-Broadway run in New York at the American Place Theater in 1969. Even though her education consisted only of a high school diploma and a college extension course or two, Sexton became a Professor of Creative Writing at Boston University by 1973 and received three honorary doctorates for her poetry.

Unfortunately, Sexton's professional success and acclaim did not cure her ills, and she remained a victim of morbid sadness and dread; she eventually developed an addiction to alcohol and sleeping pills, which addled her judgment. Eventually, on October 4, 1974, Anne Sexton feared losing her creative powers, so she drank a glass of vodka, locked herself in her garage, and started the engine of her car, offing herself with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sexton's poetry is widely remembered for its candid treatment of topics like menstruation, abortion, masturbation, incest, adultery, and drug addiction before it was common to do so. Her poetry also details her long battle with bipolar disorder, suicidal tendencies, and intimate details from her personal life, like her relationships with her husband and children, whom it was later alleged she physically and sexually assaulted.

Major Works:
  • To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960)
  • All My Pretty Ones (1962)
  • Live or Die (1966)
  • Love Poems (1969)
  • Transformations (1971)
  • The Book of Folly (1972)
  • The Death Notebooks (1974)
  • The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975)
  • 45 Mercy Street (1976)

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