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Anne Sexton Portrait

Born Anne Gray Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts, the child of a wool merchant, Sexton's family lived in Boston suburbs and spent the summers on Squirrel Island, Maine. She married Alfred Sexton in 1948. Experiencing severe depression after her daughters were born in 1953 and 1955, she attempted suicide in 1956. Her doctor recommended writing poetry as an outlet for her feelings, and she attended Boston poetry workshops run by John Holmes and Robert Lowell. To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), her first book, was successful enough to send her on the poetry reading circuit, where intense and dramatic readings gave her a still larger following. She taught at Harvard, Radcliffe, and Boston University. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967, but she remained troubled and took her own life in 1974. Though often grounded in personal experience and emotion, even her more confessional poems mix biographical truth with invention; moreover, they often address the generational conflicts women underwent as traditional roles were challenged and redefined in the 1950s and 1960s, at which point the personal becomes political. She also went on to write poetic versions of fairy tales and to produce revisionist poetic versions of biblical stories. Some of her female personas become visionary and mythic figures.