19 November 2014

Did you know... Sylvia Plath at Yaddo

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were guests at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York, from 9 September-19 November 1959. They were recommended for invitation by Newton Arvin and Richard Eberhart. In the admission process, they were graded by their peers. Plath received grades of B (Richard Eberhart), A (J[ohn] C[heever]?), and a Strong B or B plus (Morton D Zabel). Hughes received grades of A (J[ohn] C[heever]?), B (Richard Eberhart), and Good B (Morton D Zabel).

Did you know who the other guests and residents were at Yaddo at the same time as Plath and Hughes were there?

There was a director's meeting from 25-27 September, which meant that the following people were there for a few short days under different conditions and expectations. In the list, following their names are their occupation, whether they were a director or a member, and which room(s) they were assigned:

Newton Arvin (writer; Director, Dew);
Robert Coates (writer; Member, Mt. View);
Malcolm Cowley (writer; Director, also there from 20-26 October, West House #4/West House #9);
Paul Creston (composer; Member, West House #6);
Richard Donovan (composer, Director; South Room);
Ulysses Kay (composer; Member, North West);
Louis Kronenberger (writer; Director, South West);
Quincy Porter (composer; Director; East Room); and
Charles Schucker (painter; Member, West House #3).

Richard Eberhart was scheduled to be there and stay in Lower West but his name was crossed out. Other directors present at the board meeting according to the minutes were Granville Hicks, Simon Moselsio, John A. Slade, Kathryn Starbuck, and Everett V. Stonequite. Other members listed as present in the minutes were Elizabeth Ames, Arthur K.D. Healy, Frederica Mitchell, Marion D. Pease, Frank Sullivan, and Eleanor Clark Warren. Not all the directors and members required Yaddo-based accommodations. Many lived nearby and may have just made several trips back and forth. There were 64 guests in total in 1959 (although another document seen lists 69); and there was a loss of 18 or 19 trees due to a small cyclone and repairs were discussed at this meeting.

Plath spent 24 September roaming around the mansion, writing and sketching. She wrote in her journal: "Spent an hour or so yesterday writing down notes about Yaddo library, for they will close the magnificent mansion this weekend after all the guests come. The famous Board. John Cheever, Robert Penn Warren. I have nothing to say to them" (507). According to the document I consulted, neither Cheever nor Warren were listed as a participant in the meeting. Cheever was listed as a Member that year, but not as a Director in the 1959 administrative files.

Plath wrote home the day after their arrival: "Usually in the summer there are about 30 people here, but now there are only about 10 or 12, mostly artists and composers (who seem very nice) and a couple of poets we have never heard of" (Letters Home 353). Including Plath and Hughes, the guests at Yaddo that coincided in some fashion with their stay (in alphabetical order, with their occupation, dates of stay, and assigned room(s) in parentheses) were:

Charles G. Bell (writer, 4-18 September, West House #7/West House #9);
Gordon Binkerd (composer, 30 September-6 December, West House #6);
Wen-chung Chou (composer, 29 July-23 September, North West/Woodland);
Robert Conover (painter, 28 August-1 October, Pine Tree);
Worden Day (painter, 29 July-19 September, Lower West/Stone Studio);
Arthur Deshaies (painter, 6 October-5 December, Pigeon #2/West House #4);
Lu Duble (sculptor, 4 August-21 September, West House #4/Dairy);
Martin Janto (painter, 2-13 September, West House #3/Pigeon #1);
Dwight Kirsch (painter and writer, 3 August-23 September, South West/Meadow);
Perrin Lowrey (writer, 5 August-29 September, High);
Sonia Raiziss (writer, 11 August-23 September; East Room);
Howard Rogovin (painter, 2 July-4 December, West House #5/Courtyard/Pigeon #1);
Hyde Solomon (painter, 1 April-12 September, Magazine Room/Pigeon #2);
May Swenson (writer, 2 November-3 December, West House #7/West House #9); and
Lester Trimble (composer, 2-28 September, Oratory/Stone Tower).

The "couple of poets we have never heard of" included Sonia Raiziss (her obit) and Charles G. Bell (his obit).

You might be wondering, then, which rooms Plath and Hughes had? Plath's studio was in West House, room number 8. Previously that year the only other occupant was John Cheever, in April. Hughes' studio, located in in the woods at the end of Pine Grove,  was "Outlook". "Outlook" house, circled red is just a short walk from West House (not circled above, but is the building in the top right of the Bing Map screen capture. Previously that year other occupants of "Outlook" included Charles Ogden and Gerald Sykes. Hughes seems to have been considered for "East House" for his studio, but this was crossed through. Plath and Hughes' bedroom, also in West House, is West House #1. Previously that year the room was occupied on separate occasions by Lore Groszmann and Isle Lind. Plath writes at one point that she and Hughes were moving to the Garage, but this does not appear to have happened (Journals 501).

On 23 September, Plath wrote home "I read some of my poems here the other night with a professor from the University of Chicago who read from a novel-in-progress. Several guests are leaving today, among them a very fine young Chinese composer of whom we are very fond, on his second Guggenheim this year (Letters Home 354). The Chinese composer, we know, was Wen-chung Chou. The professor from the University of Chicago was Perrin Lowrey (biographical sketch). It seems Lowrey, a William Faulkner scholar, never published a novel, but in 1964, the year before his death, he did publish The Great Speckled Bird and Other Stories. Charles Bell was also a professor at the University of Chicago, but he left his position there in 1956. The other guests that left that day in addition to Wen-chung Chou were Dwight Kirsch and Sonia Raiziss.

Only Newton Arvin, Wen-chung Chou and Sonia Raiziss (via her editorial position on the Chelsea Review appear in Plath's address book, held by Smith College.

According to "Portraits" in Ted Hughes' 1998 collection Birthday Letters, Plath had her portrait painted in the old greenhouse by "Howard". Howard is the artist Howard Rogovin, who was a guest at Yaddo from 2 July-4 December 1959. For background and memories of Howard Rogovin at Yaddo, please see Jeremy Treglown's excellent "Howard's Way - Painting Sylvia Plath" in the TLS (30 August 2013, page 13).

For additional reading on Yaddo, please consider reading Yaddo: Making American Culture, which serves as the exhibition book for a 2008-2009 show at the New York Public Library. To complement this exhibit, Karen V. Kukil curated an exhibit at Smith College called "Unconquered by Flames: The Literary Lights of Yaddo" (additional information).

The Yaddo records at the New York Public Library, where much of this information was obtained, is a great resource. Obviously Plath and Hughes are but two of their very famous guests. The housing information was obtained from "Housing Charts: 1959" in Box 332. What they have are photocopies of the originals. The 1959 chart is a huge format paper with grids listing down the left hand side all the housing rooms and work spaces: East House, Pine Tree, West House (#1 - #7), Mansion North Studio, Mt. [Mountain] View, East Room, South Room, Lower West, North West, South West, Oratory, Dew, High, Third South, Third West #1, Third West #2, Magazine Room, Stone Studio #1, #2, #3, Courtyard, Dairy, Pigeon #1, Pigeon #2, Stone Tower, Woodland, Hillside, Outlook, Meadow, Mansion Tower, Garden Studio, West House #8, and West House #9. Most guests had their names listed twice: one place for sleeping and one for work. However, I could not locate on the sheet two places for a couple of the guests. An absolutely indispensable resource.

My thanks to Lesley Leduc of Yaddo for her assistance with some of the information in this post. Additionally, to Tal Nadan and the staff at the New York Public Library, who were helpful when I worked with the records in their ambient reading room on 10 October.

All links accessed 28-29 September 2014.


Anonymous said...

Aw wow Peter, what an amazing big detailed and enriching work you've done about Yaddo and its guests, you're always gifting us great and full of curious pearls of knowledge so interesting to read and to study of. It's amazing the passion and effort you put always into it, it's visible and tangible. It reaches us. Thank you again for another very interesting post.
Have a nice day,

xxx Alessandra

Peter K Steinberg said...

Alessandra, Thank you for your kind comment. It is motivational to me to know the information is useful to at least one person!


Melanie Smith said...

Hi, Peter, like Alessandra said, you always provide us with interesting information, filling gaps and rounding out what we know. Thank you

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.