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Anne Sexton papers

Identifier: MCL.126

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of three boxes of material, primarily from 1974 or later. The correspondence consists of seven letters, all from 1974, but only three written by Sexton. Series II is a collection of 41 poems in onion-skin typescript carbons, 12 of which are unpublished. Most of the 29 published poems appear in 45 Mercy Street (1976), and the remainder are published in Complete Poems (1981) or Last Poems (1981). These 41 poems were all written in the last nine months of Mrs. Sexton’s life, during which time Barbara Schwartz was her therapist. One of the poems was dictated by Sexton to Schwartz over the phone after a nearly successful suicide attempt. Most of the poems have few edits or changes. Series III, Miscellaneous, includes Sexton’s debut performance as a reporter, covering the July, 1974 concert by Ella Fitzgerald. Series IV is a sampling of her poems published in periodicals, while Series V and VI consist of published material by other authors relating to Anne Sexton, the bulk of which were published after her death. Series VII consists of audiotapes of poetry readings. Note: Box 2 is flat oversize, and Box 3 is a cassette box.


  • 1964-1993


Language of Materials



Anne Sexton (nee Anne Gray Harvey) was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on November 9, 1928. She went to Roger’s Hall boarding school in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1945, and then attended Garland Junior College for one year before marrying Alfred Muller Sexton II at age nineteen. She modeled for Hart Agency in Boston for a time. Her first daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, was born in 1953.

In 1954, Mrs. Sexton was diagnosed with clinical depression. After her second daughter, Joyce Ladd Sexton, was born in 1955, Anne suffered another mental breakdown. She was hospitalized, her children were sent to live with her husband’s parents, and she attempted to commit suicide on her birthday. During this tumultuous period in her life, Dr. Martin Orne became Sexton’s psychiatrist. He convinced her to take up poetry, an interest she had stumbled upon but not seriously cultivated while in school.

During her first poetry class, at the Boston Center for Adult Education in the fall of 1957, Anne became friends with the poet Maxine Kumin, who would remain her friend, literary partner and editor. Also in 1957, she met W.D. Snodgrass at the Antioch Writers’ Conference, who became a mentor to her. She developed a style of confessional poetry similar to that of Sylvia Plath, Snodgrass, and Robert Lowell, and centered on such themes as the experiences of being a woman, addition and drug use, sexuality, and her suicidal impulses.

Sexton published her first book of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), only three years after writing her first verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 with her book Live or Die (1966). According to Maxine Kumin, poetry allowed Sexton to endure living with depression for as long as she did. Anne and Alfred Sexton’s marriage collapsed in 1973. On October 4, 1974, after having lunch with Maxine regarding editing her new book, The Awful Rowing Towards God, Anne Sexton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.


1 Linear Feet (3 archives boxes)


The collection is arranged into seven series: I. Correspondence, 1974; II. Poems, Published and Unpublished, from 1974; III. Miscellaneous; IV. Periodical Appearances; V. Clippings; VI. Oversize Periodical Appearances; VII. Audio Recordings.


Anne Sexton papers MCL.126
Peter Andersen
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Language of description note
The finding aid is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Digital Scholarship Repository