Biographical / Historical
Anne Sexton (nee Anne Gray Harvey) was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on November 9, 1928. She went to Roger’s Hall boarding school in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1945, and then attended Garland Junior College for one year before marrying Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. She modeled for Hart Agency in Boston for a time. Her first daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, was born in 1953.
In 1954, Mrs. Sexton was diagnosed with clinical depression. After her second daughter, Joyce Ladd Sexton, was born in 1955, Anne suffered another mental breakdown. She was hospitalized, her children were sent to live with her husband’s parents, and she attempted to commit suicide on her birthday. During this tumultuous period in her life, Dr. Martin Orne became Sexton’s psychiatrist. He convinced her to take up poetry, an interest she had stumbled upon but not seriously cultivated while in school.
During her first poetry class, at the Boston Center for Adult Education in the fall of 1957, Anne became friends with the poet Maxine Kumin, who would remain her friend, literary partner and editor. Also in 1957, she met W.D. Snodgrass at the Antioch Writers’ Conference, who became a mentor to her. She developed a style of confessional poetry similar to that of Sylvia Plath, Snodgrass, and Robert Lowell, and centered on such themes as the experiences of being a woman, addiction and drug use, sexuality, and her suicidal impulses.
Sexton published her first book of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), only three years after writing her first verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 with her book Live or Die (1966). According to Maxine Kumin, poetry allowed Sexton to endure living with depression for as long as she did. Anne and Alfred Sexton’s marriage collapsed in 1973. On October 4, 1974, after having lunch with Maxine regarding editing her new book, The Awful Rowing Towards God, Anne Sexton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.