Anne Gray Harvey Sexton was born on November 9, 1928 in Newton, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Ralph Harvey and Mary Gray Staples. Anne was raised in comfortable middle-class circumstances in Weston, Massachusetts, and at the summer compound on Squirrel Island in Maine. Her father was an alcoholic, and her mother's literary aspirations had been frustrated by family life. Anne took refuge from her dysfunctional family in her close relationship with "Nana" (Anna Dingley), her maiden great-aunt who lived with the family during Anne's adolescence. Anne felt that her parents were hostile to her and feared that they might abandon her. Her aunt's later breakdown and hospitalization also traumatized her. Anne disliked school. Her inability to concentrate and occasional disobedience prompted teachers to urge her parents to seek counseling for her--advice her parents did not take. In 1945 they sent her to Rogers Hall, a boarding school in Lowell, Massachusetts, where she began to write poetry and to act. After graduation she briefly attended what she called a "finishing" school. Anne's beauty and sense of daring attracted many men, and at nineteen she eloped with Alfred "Kayo" Sexton II, even though she was engaged to someone else at the time. Later, during Kayo's service in Korea, Anne became a fashion model. Her infidelities during her husband's absence led to her entering therapy. In 1953 Anne gave birth to a daughter, and Kayo took a job as a traveling salesman in Anne's father's business. Depressed after the death of her beloved Nana in 1954 and the birth of her second daughter in 1955, Sexton went back into therapy. Her depression worsened, however, and during times when her husband was gone, she occasionally abused the children. Several attempts at suicide led to intermittent institutionalization, of which her parents disapproved. During these years, Sexton's therapist encouraged her to write. In 1957 Sexton joined several Boston writing groups, and she came to know such writers as Maxine Kumin, Robert Lowell, George Starbuck, and Sylvia Plath. Her poetry became central to her life, and she mastered formal techniques that gained her wide attention. Like such other so-called confessional poets as W. D. Snodgrass and Robert Lowell, Sexton was able to convince her readers that her poems echoed her life; not only was her poetry technically excellent, but it was meaningful to the midcentury readers who lived daily with similar kinds of fear and angst. In 1959 Sexton unexpectedly lost both of her parents, and the memory of her difficult relationships with them--so abruptly ended--led to further breakdowns. Poetry seemed the only route to stability, though at times the friendships she made through her art, which led to sexual affairs, also were unsettling. Her marriage was torn by discord and physical abuse as her husband saw his formerly dependent wife become a celebrity. Sexton's reputation as poet peaked with the publication of Love Poems (1969), an off-Broadway production of her play Mercy Street (1969), and the publication of prose poems in Transformations (1972). Clearly her most feminist work, the pieces in Transformations spoke to a different kind of reader. The Sexton voice was now less confessional and more critical of cultural practices, more inclined to look outside the poet's persona for material Contrary to her seemingly confident public manner, however, Sexton was heavily dependent on therapists, medications, close friends--particularly Maxine Kumin and, later, Lois Ames--and lovers. Continual depressive bouts, unexpected trance states, and comparatively frequent suicide attempts kept her family and friends watchful and unnerved. Finally, in 1973, Sexton told Kayo she wanted a divorce, and from that time on a noticeable decline in her health and stability occurred as loneliness, alcoholism, and depression took their toll. Estranged from many of her former friends, Sexton became...
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