08 March 2012

Sylvia Plath was busy...did you know...

Sylvia Plath served on the Press Board at Smith College in the fall and spring of her Junior year (1952-1953) and then again briefly upon her return to college from her breakdown, suicide attempt, and recovery in the spring of 1954. Did you know that during her time as Press Board correspondent, Plath wrote and had published at least 24 articles in the local newspapers?

Mostly unacknowledged in the printed newspapers, the Smith College Archives holds typescripts of press releases that Plath wrote covering campus and local events. Armed with copies of these typescripts, with Plath's name typed in the top right of each press release, I searched through microfilm reels of the various Pioneer Valley newspapers, hunting for the appearances in the newspapers of these articles Plath wrote. Below is a bibliography of those journalism pieces Plath wrote.

"Freshman at Smith Will Meet Local Ministers." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 1, 1952: 9.

"Freshman to Greet Pastors of Churches." The Springfield Daily News. October 1, 1952: 32

"Smith Events." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 2, 1952: 15.

"Succoth Service." The Springfield Daily News. October 2, 1952: 32.

"Can Rent Reproductions." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 2, 1952: 15.

"Lectures Arranged by Hillel Foundation." The Springfield Daily News. October 17, 1952: 32.

"Varied Religions and Cultural Program Planned For Smith College Students." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 17, 1952: 6.

"Cheers, Jeers Promised for Smith Game." Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 27, 1952: 8.

"Smith Girls Will Get Chance to Jeer Faculty." The Springfield Daily News. October 27, 1952: 30.

"Week-End Dance." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 7, 1952: 5.

"Hillel Group Plans First Social Function." The Springfield Daily News. November 7, 1952: 32.

"Mrs. L. Diem of Cologne Visiting Smith." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 11, 1952: 5.

"More Than 100 Varieties of Chrysanthemums Will Be Seen at Lyman Plant House." Daily Hampshire Gazette. November 11, 1952: 6.

"Chrysanthemums are on Display at Smith." The Springfield Daily News. November 11, 1952: 9.

"Newly Revised Edition of 'Smith Review' Has Articles by Students." Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 12, 1952: 7. (heavily edited from the two typescripts at SCA)

"College Group Will Debate on February 11." Daily Hampshire Gazette. December 12, 1952: 7.

"Student’s Prize Story Featured in Review." The Springfield Daily News. December 12, 1952: 32.

"Drive for Hymnals at Smith College." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 13, 1953: 8.

"Passoved [sic] Will Be Marked Monday at Smith College." Daily Hampshire Gazette. March 21, 1953: 4.

"Smith College Seder." The Springfield Daily News. March 21, 1953: 7.

"Smith Christians Group Points to Achievements." Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 14, 1953: 23.

"Smith College Field Events Saturday Afternoon, Night." Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 15, 1953: 1, 12.

"Float Night at College." The Springfield Daily News. May 15, 1953: 9.

"14 Colleges to Take Part in Poetry Reading Festival." Daily Hampshire Gazette. May 6, 1954: 9.

These pieces are largely a giant step away from the creative writing Plath is most known for, and also quite a bit less "interesting," for lack of a better word, than the articles Plath would write from Cambridge University and then through the later 1950s during her Boston year which appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.

Plath turned back to this genre of writing in the early1960s, first doing book reviews for the New Statesman and then writing pieces for Punch ("America! America!") and the BBC ("Ocean 1212-W). And in that regard, I think "America! America!" and "Ocean 1212-W" read like companion pieces. There is overlap as "America! America!" merges early school experiences in Winthrop with those of Wellesley...Plath even touches upon the subject matter she explored in her short story "Initiation." And "Ocean 1212-W" takes place completely in Winthrop with the exception of the end where her family leaves the seaside: "And this is how it stiffens, my vision of that seaside childhood. My father died, we moved inland. Whereupon those nine first years of my life sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle - beautiful, inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth."

Continuing on this association train, in the joint BBC interview with Owen Leeming, Ted Hughes makes a similar comment about his own childhood. In discussing a family move in childhood, Hughes comments..."We left Mytholmroyd when I was about eight then all that was sealed off, we moved to Mexborough which was industrial and depressing and dirty … but it was really a very good thing. It became - it became a much richer experience for me than - than my previous seven years had been but in being as different it really sealed off my first seven years so that now I have memories of my first seven years which … seem almost half my life. I've - I've remembered almost everything because it was sealed off in that particular way..."

Sorry...back to the press releases... While it is generally well-known and reported in biographies that Plath served on the Press Board -- for example Paul Alexander references that her articles "appeared regularly" -- no biography has really ever discussed either the events about which Plath wrote or spelled out the number of articles which did appear. Obviously a number of these articles appeared in at least two newspapers on the same day -- so the numbers are a bit skewed -- but it does show a weekly, and sometimes daily, commitment to her responsibilities. And tantalizingly, there could be even more! What these articles do help to illustrate is Plath's engagement with Smith College life and activities before her breakdown the following summer. In addition to her regular school studies, her creative writing and journal-writing, Plath was clearly writing many releases for Press Board and maintaining, no doubt, an active social life. It kind of helps to put things into perspective as things later played out in June and the summer of 1953.

Prior to locating these typescripts in the Smith College Archives, these writings were largely unknown and consequently, were not present in previous bibliographies.

8 comments :

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Her over-achievement only seems to grow...

Melanie Smith said...

She really managed to do so much. I feel very disorganised.

Anonymous said...

Great investigative work, Peter!

~VC

Peter K Steinberg said...

~VC, thanks! Most of the work of finding them to begin with was done by the good people at Smith. Like my searching for articles of Plath's disappearance in 1953, I just had free time to spare!

Melanie & Julia, I know what you mean.

pks

Carl Rollyson said...

That Plath worked as a journalist only confirms my view that she was attuned to her culture in ways biographers have undervalued. I hope to remedy that in my own biography, AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SYLVIA PLATH, still on schedule to be published on February 11, 2013.

Good work, as always, Peter.

marie augustine. said...

Can you recommend me essay-books about Sylvia? Thks!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thanks Carl!

Marie Augustine - I think some good essay books on Plath are:

The Other Sylvia Plath by Tracy Brain (2001); Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study by Tim Kendall (2001); Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley(2007); and The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath edited by Anita Helle (2007). Also, many of the essays published online via the journal Plath Profiles are excellent though I am reluctant post which ones I recommend.

I hope this helps! Have you read any of these? If so, it might help me (and others) to suggest similar books or essays that might be within the area of your interest.

pks

marie augustine. said...

Thank you so so much!

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