Crossing paths with Sylvia Plath


At least three biographies of Sylvia Plath are being released this year, 50 years after her death.

While many might think that there must be nothing new to say on the subject of the poet’s life, biographer Carly Rollyson disagrees. As a result, one of the new Plath biographies appearing on bookstore shelves and websites right now is Rollyson’s entry into the field, American Isis.

“What I wanted to show is that Sylvia Plath is really unique in her generation, part of that transition period in the 1950’s, pre-feminism,” Rollyson said.

He does that in part by comparing Plath with one of her contemporaries, Marylin Monroe.

The original blonde bombshell was the subject of a previous Rollyson biography. His argument centers around the belief that both women were striving for the things they wanted, struggling to fulfill and transcend the female roles society set for them.

“They’re almost like reverse images of each other,” Rollyson said.

Golden connection

Another motivation for Rollyson’s new biography is that, in his words, “there’s always new material.”

In Rollyson’s case, the new material includes some newly revealed writings from Plath’s husband Ted Hughes, as well as new interviews of some of Plath’s classmates from her time at Smith College.

Back in 1953, Golden’s own Judy Denison happened to be right across the hallway from Plath.

“I had noticed Sylvia’s poems in ‘Seventeen’ — they were so good that I actually remembered her name,” Denison said, admitting to some hero worship.

On an April day in 1954 Denison snapped a picture of Plath in a tree outside their campus house, “dressed in the standard Smith outfit.”

That photo now graces the cover of Rollyson’s dust jacket.

Denison said it is surreal that a photo she took so long ago is suddenly on bookshelves on both sides of the Atlantic. Paparazzi photos of Academy Award-winning actress Anne Hathaway shopping at a bookstore and holding American Isis recently made the papers.

To help promote the book, Denison also helped host Rollyson, while he was in Denver for his book tour.

The money from the photo rights though, were all donated to Smith College, Denison said.


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