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Anne Sexton collection

 Collection
Identifier: C-11

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of material dating from between 1964 and 1993. The correspondence consists of seven letters, all from 1974, but only three written by Sexton. Series II consists of 41 poems on onion-skin typescript carbons, 12 of which are unpublished. Most of the 29 published poems appear in 45 Mercy Street (1976), and the remainder are published in Complete Poems (1981) or Last Poems (1981). These 41 poems were all written in the last nine months of Sexton’s life, during which time Barbara Schwartz was her therapist. One of the poems ("The Execution") was dictated by Sexton to Schwartz over the phone after a nearly successful suicide attempt. Most of the poems have few edits or changes. Series III contains miscellaneous materials including Sexton’s debut performance as a reporter, covering the July, 1974 concert by Ella Fitzgerald. Series IV is a sampling of her poems published in periodicals, while Series V and VI consist of published material by other authors relating to Anne Sexton, the bulk of which were published after her death. Series VII consists of audio cassette tapes of poetry readings.

Dates

  • 1964-1993

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email: specialcollections@middlebury.edu

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. Sexton worked as a model for Hart Agency in Boston for a short time. Her first daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, was born in 1953.

In 1954, Sexton was diagnosed with clinical depression. After her second daughter, Joyce Ladd Sexton, was born in 1955, Anne suffered a nervous 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. Orne 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, Sexton became friends with the poet Maxine Kumin, who would remain her friend, literary partner and editor. In 1957, she met W.D. Snodgrass at the Antioch Writers’ Conference, who her mentor. 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 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). Anne and Alfred Sexton’s marriage collapsed in 1973. On October 4, 1974, after having lunch with Kumin regarding editing her new book, The Awful Rowing Towards God, Anne Sexton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Extent

3 Boxes

Overview

The Anne Sexton collection was compiled by Sexton’s therapist during the last nine months of her life. The collection offers a glimpse into the mind of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, a mind tormented by suicidal thoughts, depression and bipolar disorder. Onionskin carbon copies of her published and unpublished poetry from 1974 reveal both the depths of her despair and the eloquence with which she expressed it – before she finally ended her life on October 4, 1974. Also included in the collection are published materials from both before and after Sexton’s death, letters, and audiotapes of Sexton’s poetry.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged into seven series: I. Correspondence; II. Poems; III. Miscellaneous; IV. Periodical appearances; V. Clippings; and VI. Audio recordings.

Physical Location

1 Hollinger document box in B1.14.4.4; 2 boxes: 1 flat oversize and 1 cassette box in Aber Oversize: B3.2.Shelf 30

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Anne Sexton collection compiled by Sexton’s therapist, Barbara Schwartz, during the last nine months of her life. They were sold by George Robert Minkoff, Inc., Rare Books, of 26 Rowe Road, Alford, MA 01230, to Robert Buckeye, Special Collections Curator of Middlebury College, on December 31, 1993.

Related Materials

Collection was purchased with nine books from Anne Sexton's personal library, now housed in the Abernethy collection of American literature within Special Collections.

Processing Information

Finding Aid Compiled, August 2012, by Peter Andersen ‘13.

Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Contact:
Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States