Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Anne Sexton:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Sexton, Anne, 1928-1974
Title Anne Sexton Papers
Dates: 1912-1996
Extent 44 boxes (20.16 linear feet), 12 galley folders (gf), 1 oversize folder (osf), 5 oversize boxes (osb)
Abstract Manuscripts, correspondence, financial records, contracts, notes, and samples of her students' poetry comprise the bulk of Sexton's Papers. The materials thoroughly explore the American poet and playwright's writing career from her earliest poems to the materials published after her death. Working copies of all the major collections of verse are included, as are multiple versions of her best known play, Mercy Street (1969). Correspondence includes a variety of Sexton's personal and business correspondence.
OCLC No.: 122492286
Language English.
Access

Open for research. Open for research. Four journals and two scrapbooks are restricted for preservation purposes due to their physical condition. Digital scans of these items are available for use in the Ransom Center Reading and Viewing Room. The original materials may be viewed only with curatorial approval.




Acquisition

Purchases and gifts, 1980-2013 (R8732, G620, G621, G692, G858, G859, R12470, G8943, G10698, R14718, 13-03-015-G)

The bulk of the Anne Sexton Papers were purchased from or donated by Sexton’s daughters, Linda and Joyce. Additional materials, several volumes from Sexton’s personal library, were later donated to the Ransom center by Linda Sexton and the Houghton Mifflin Company. Tillie Olson and Sands B. Robart also donated materials to the collection.

Processed by

Chelsea S. Jones, 1998; Stephen Mielke, 2011

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin


Born Anne Gray Harvey, Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was the youngest of three daughters born to a well-off couple in Weston, Massachusetts. Sexton's father owned and ran a wool business and her mother, well educated and intelligent, maintained an active social schedule of parties and charity events. The sisters were not close, each vying for the attention of their busy parents and pursuing their own interests. Anne's behavior as a child, seemingly always in motion, making noise, and looking disheveled, excluded her from many of the family's social activities.

In junior high school Sexton lost her awkwardness and became the center of a gang of girlfriends. Her first attempt at poetry resulted from a breakup with long-time boyfriend Jack McCarthy. During her senior year in high school Sexton wrote more poetry, some of which was published in the school paper. When Sexton's mother essentially accused her of plagiarizing the poems, Sexton stopped writing poetry altogether for ten years.

After high school, in 1947, Sexton attended finishing school at the Garland School in Boston. While there, she became engaged and began planning a big wedding. However, in 1948, Sexton met and fell in love with Alfred Muller Sexton II, nicknamed Kayo. In August of the same year, afraid that she was pregnant, Sexton and Kayo, on the advice of her mother, eloped to North Carolina. Returning from their honeymoon, the young couple spent the next few years moving back and forth between their parents' homes. Kayo dropped his pre-med studies after a few months and found work with a wool firm. In 1951, Kayo was shipped overseas with the naval reserves, and in the fall of 1952, Sexton joined him in San Francisco, where his ship was being overhauled, and almost immediately became pregnant. They returned to Massachusetts for the Christmas holidays and Sexton remained at her parents' home for the remainder of her pregnancy. Linda Gray Sexton was born on July 21, 1953, and shortly thereafter the Sextons bought a house in Newton Lower Falls, MA, and Kayo accepted a position with his father-in-law's wool company. Two years later, Joyce Ladd Sexton was born on August 4, 1955.

Shortly after Joyce's birth, Sexton began a year-long slide into the depression that would plague her for the rest of her life. Feeling disoriented and agitated, she sought help from Dr. Martha Brunner-Orne who diagnosed post-partum depression and prescribed medication. After five months of treatment Sexton developed a paralyzing fear of being alone with her children. She became increasingly prone to attacks of blinding rage which often led to abusive behavior towards Linda. Afraid that she would actually kill the child, Sexton finally confided some of her problems to her family and they rallied to support her. During Kayo's business trips, his sister would stay with her, and Kayo's father offered to help cover some of the expenses of therapy. Sexton's parents sent their housemaid to help with the housework and also sent money. However, this practical help did not solve Sexton's problems and in July of 1956 she entered Westwood Lodge, a private hospital, for three weeks. While at Westwood Lodge, Sexton met Dr. Brunner's son, Dr. Orne, who was to be her psychiatrist for the next eight years.

Sexton was released from Westwood Lodge on August 3, 1956, but her condition continued to decline. Dr. Orne placed her in Glenside Mental Institution after she took an overdose of Nembutal in November. Sometime in 1956, Sexton began writing poetry. She showed the poems to Orne who vigorously encouraged her to continue writing. Over the course of 1957, Sexton brought over 60 completed poems to Orne for approval. In the fall of 1957, she began attending an adult education poetry workshop taught by John Holmes. By the end of the year, Holmes suggested that Sexton seek publication. In April of 1958, The Fiddlehead Review published "Eden Revisited."

Sexton continued to attend Holmes' seminar through 1958. It was there that she met and became close friends with Maxine Kumin. That same year, Sexton attended the Antioch Writer's Conference, where she worked with W.D. Snodgrass, and took a graduate poetry writing seminar with Robert Lowell. In 1959 she received a Robert Frost Scholarship to attend the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont. In 1960 this work culminated in the publication of a collection of poems, To Bedlam and Partway Back. Well received, Bedlam was the first of ten collections of verse Sexton published in her lifetime.

Over the next fourteen years Sexton wrote poetry, short stories, a major theatrical production, and presented her poetry at readings, alone and with musical accompaniment. She taught poetry courses at Boston University, Oberlin, and Wayland High School. She became a major presence in the American poetry scene and helped earn respect for women poets in general. In 1965 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1967 she received both the Shelley Memorial Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die (1966). In 1968 Sexton was awarded honorary membership in the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the first woman to receive this award, and in 1969 she was made a member of the Radcliffe chapter. She received honorary doctorates from Tufts University and Fairfield University in 1970, and from Regis College in 1973.

Despite these and other accolades, Sexton continued to struggle with her mental illness, taking pills and drinking heavily to combat her fears. To the dismay of many, but perhaps the surprise of none, she took her own life on October 4, 1974. Sexton's daughters and friends published several volumes of poems and letters after her death, including 45 Mercy Street (1975), Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977), and Words for Dr. Y.: Uncollected Poems with Three Short Stories (1978).


Anne Sexton: A Biography. Diane Wood Middlebrook. (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).

Dictionary of Literary Biography -- Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Part 2, L-Z. Donald J. Genner, Ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980).


Manuscripts, correspondence, financial records, contracts with her publishers, notes from her presentations, and samples of her students' poetry comprise the bulk of the Anne Sexton Papers, 1912-1996 (bulk 1953-1974). The collection is organized into three series, with materials arranged alphabetically by title or author: I. Works, 1958-1978 (16 boxes), II. Correspondence, 1939-1974 (13 boxes), III. Miscellaneous, 1912-1996 (16 boxes), and Series IV. Formerly Closed Materials (3 boxes).

This collection was previously accessible through a card catalog, but has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.

The papers thoroughly explore Sexton's writing career from her earliest poems to the materials published after her death. Working copies of all the major collections of verse are included, as are multiple versions of her best known play, Mercy Street. Individual poems demonstrate Sexton's editing methods, as do various published and unpublished short stories. Diaries, interviews, articles and materials from her many presentations fill out the Works series.

Correspondence includes a variety of Sexton's personal and business correspondence. There is a large quantity of correspondence with colleges and institutions requesting readings or Sexton's attendance at various functions, as well as communication between Sexton and magazines, her publishers, fellow poets, students, friends, and family. Of particular note are letters between Sexton and Lois Ames, Michael Bearpark, Saul Bellow, Michael Benedikt, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Conant, Morton Courier, Dorianne Goetz, Anthony Hecht, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Hudson Review, Barbara Kevles, Maxine Kumin, Philip Legler, Robert Lowell, George MacBeth, Jack McCarthy, John Mood, Marianne Moore, The New Yorker, Dennis O'Brien, Tillie Olson, Oxford University Press, Radcliffe College Institute for Independent Study, Sylvia Plath, Al Poulin, Alfred "Kayo" Sexton, Dick Sherwood, Robin Skelton, Alice Smith, William Snodgrass, George Starbuck, Brian Sweeney, John Updike, Anne Wilder, and James Wright.

The remainder of the materials is composed of drafts of other authors' works, fan mail sent to Sexton, school memorabilia, photographs of Sexton and others, a notebook of newspaper clippings about Sexton kept by Alice Smith, a letter from William Wallace Denslow to Arthur Staples in 1912, and a set of page proofs for a German translation of Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters, published in 1996.

At the time of their acquisition by the Ransom Center, some of the Sexton materials were closed for use. The restrictions were lifted in 2011 and the materials then housed and described as Series IV. Formerly Closed Materials. Included in these materials are typescript drafts of early works, correspondence, four journals containing detailed information on Sexton’s therapy sessions, and audio tapes of therapy sessions.


The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study possesses additional audio tape recordings of Sexton’s therapy sessions.


The Ransom Center Vertical File Collection contains an extensive collection of newspaper clippings and other printed material covering the publication and criticism of Sexton’s work. There are also over 240 photographs of Sexton, her family, and friends, located in the Literary Files of the Center’s Photography Collection. Additionally, there are videos of Sexton in the Center’s Film Collection, and several items in the Personal Effects Collection.


Correspondents

Ames, Lois.

Amichai, Yehuda.

Bearpark, Michael.

Bellow, Saul.

Benedikt, Michael, 1935- .

Bishop, Elizabeth, 1911-1979.

Bly, Robert.

Brinnin, John Malcolm, 1916- .

Conant, Louise.

Courier, Morton.

Davison, Peter.

Dickey, James.

Eberhart, Richard, 1904- .

Fitts, Dudley, 1903- .

Goetz, Dorianne.

Hall, Donald, 1928- .

Hazo, Samuel John.

Hecht, Anthony.

Hughes, Olwyn.

Hughes, Ted, 1930- .

Hugo, Richard.

Humphries, Rolf.

Jong, Erica.

Kennedy, X.J.

Kevles, Barbara L.

Kinnell, Galway, 1927- .

Kizer, Carolyn.

Kumin, Maxine, 1925- .

Kunitz, Stanley.

Legler, Philip, 1928- .

Levertov, Denise.

Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977.

MacBeth, George.

McCarthy, Jack.

McClatchy, J.D.

McGinley, Phyllis.

Meredith, William.

Merriam, Eve, 1916- .

Mood, John J.L.

Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972.

Nims, John Frederick, 1913- .

Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938- .

O'Brien, Dennis, 1931- .

Olson, Tillie.

Pack, Robert.

Plath, Sylvia.

Poulin, Al.

Rich, Adrienne Cecile.

Rukeyser, Muriel, 1913- .

Sarton, May, 1912- .

Seldes, Marian.

Sexton, Alfred Muller, II.

Sexton, Joyce Ladd.

Sexton, Linda Gray.

Shapiro, Karl Jay, 1913- .

Sherwood, Dick.

Simpson, Louis Ashton Marantz, 1923- .

Sissman, L.E., 1928-1976.

Skelton, Robin.

Smith, Alice, 1950- .

Snodgrass, William D.W. (William De Witt), 1926- .

Spender, Stephen.

Spivak, Kathleen.

Starbuck, George, 1931- .

Strand, Mark, 1934- .

Summers, Hollis Spurgeon, 1916- .

Susa, Conrad.

Sweeney, Brian.

Swenson, May.

Tillinghast, Richard.

Tureck, Rosalyn.

Untermeyer, Louis, 1895-1977.

Updike, John.

Vendler, Helen Hennessy.

Wakoski, Diane.

Whittmore, Reed, 1919- .

Wilder, Anne.

Williams, C.K. (Charles Kenneth), 1936- .

Williams, Oscar, 1900-1964.

Wright, James Arlington, 1927- .

Zucker, Jack.

Organizations

Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

The Hudson Review.

The New Yorker.

Oxford University Press.

Radcliffe College Institute for Independent Study.

Sterling Lord Agency.

Subjects

American poetry.

Fantasy.

Love poetry, American.

Poets, American--20th century.

Document types

Diaries.

Journals.

Juvenilia.

Legal documents.

Love letters.

Photographs.

Post cards.