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The Life and Work of Sylvia Plath (Audio)

“Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.” 
– Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

American poet, novelist, and short-story writer Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. She published her first poem at the age of eight and by the time her death at age thirty in October 1963 she was already highly regarded in the literary community.

Former American Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky said of her work: “Thrashing, hyperactive, perpetually accelerated, the poems of Sylvia Plath catch the feeling of a profligate, hurt imagination, throwing off images and phrases with the energy of a runaway horse or a machine with its throttle stuck wide open. All the violence in her work returns to that violence of imagination, a frenzied brilliance and conviction.”

In 1975, a group of Plath’s contemporaries contributed to ‘The Life and Work of Sylvia Plath’ radio program. This recording is made possible here by Clocktower Radio and the archives of Charles Ruas who describe it thus:

The program was primarily devoted towards the dark and feminist undertones in Plath’s work. This implication was magnified by the female actresses that participated in the reading of her works. The participants included; Dorothy Dells, Sandra Lowell, Jay MacIntosh, Juliana McCarthy, Constance Pfeiffer, Judith Roberts, Joan Strauss, and Sheri Tyler.

The selected readings include; The Beehive, Stings, Fever 103, New Statue, Cut, Contusion, Daddy,Death & Co., Angelfire, The Colossus, The Applicant, A Fatherless Son, Lesbos, and excerpts from The Bell Jar.

These texts are analyzed in conjunction with what was going on in Plath’s life during the time they were written. The participants discuss how the men in her life impacted her work, wherein it is noted that Plath specifically identifies her reader as male. It is argued that in an effort to reconcile her frustration with the notion of the domesticated woman, Plath used her poetry as an outlet for these anxieties. This idea, in addition to acknowledging her depression, is compared to the writings of Virginia Woolf and Anne Sexton who also suffered from mental instability. These two writers are also singled out and related to Plath because they too took their lives amidst a culture that scrutinized their efforts to be writers, as well as mothers.



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