Episode 37: Rewriting the Script: The short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath with her acclaimed biographer Heather Clark
In Episode 37 (released 15 November 2021): Heather Clark, Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield and author of the award-winning biography Red Comet, joins the Slightly Foxed team from New York to dispel the myths that have come to surround Sylvia Plath’s life and art.
Tired of the cliché of the hysterical female writer, and of the enduring focus on Plath’s death rather than her trailblazing poetry and fiction, Clark used a wealth of new material – including juvenilia, unpublished letters and manuscripts, and psychiatric records – to explore Plath’s literary landscape. She conjures the spirit of the star English student at Smith College who won a Fulbright scholarship to Cambridge University and who brought her enormous appetite for life to her writing and relationships. We follow her life from the ‘mad passionate abandon’ of her thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, rebellion against genteel verse and her creation of a dark ‘potboiler’ in The Bell Jar to her belief that a full literary life and a family unit can coexist and the outpouring of first-rate poems fuelled by rage in her final days. She introduced female anger and energy into the poetic lexicon with ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Daddy’, ‘Ariel’ and more; poems that were considered shocking at the time, but which are now regarded as masterpieces.
And there are more biographies to be found in our round-up of reading recommendations – of renegade anthropologists and female abstract expressionists – as well as a relationship between a father and his young son told through illustrated letters that leap off the page in Letters to Michael, with wonderful readings by the actor Nigel Anthony. Click here to listen to this episode.