08 May 2015

From Smith to Indiana: Continuing My Journey with Sylvia Plath

The following is a guest blog post by the bright, talented, young Sylvia Plath scholar Amanda Ferrara, who has been fortunate enough to attend both Smith College and Indiana University and work closely with the two richest Sylvia Plath archives in the world.

My path to becoming a Plath scholar has been one of twists and turns. I've been lucky to work with Sylvia Plath's materials in both proprietary repositories, Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Room and Indiana University's Lilly Library. A native of Western Massachusetts, I aspired to being a "Smithie" from a young age, frequently heading to Northampton with friends as a reprieve from our less exciting towns in the Valley. I was accepted to, and began attending, the all women's college in 2009, and quickly picked up on the legacy of famous graduates discussed by other students. I already knew of Julia Child, but of the other popular alumnae, it took some time for me to learn their stories. Sylvia Plath was just another name in the bucket, a poet and a writer, yes, but at that stage in my life, she was another amorphous representation of the College's tangle in history. My age attributed to this, but struggling with my academic direction was also the cause; my major and future were unclear to me and left me in an uneasy state. I liked reading, organizing, and libraries, but what jobs could be tailored to this? Where would a degree get me with these skills? Little did I know, the archives would soon be my answer.

Judith Glazer-Raymo (Smith ’53)
 and Amanda Ferrara (Smith ’13)
 17 January 2012 at The Grolier Club
I got to know Smith's Plath collection in an archives based class I took with Karen Kukil my sophomore year. The College offered a concentration in the archives and on a whim one January I decided to enroll. Learning about the field and having hands on experience in the Five College repositories gave me a great feeling of relief and satisfaction. Though my job would involve instruction and "medical" intervention of materials, it wasn't a professor or doctor I aspired to be, it was an archivist. Karen tasked us students with transcribing a letter for an upcoming project, however in my excitement of finding the place I loved to be, I asked, instead, for three. Sylvia Plath's story, mostly her work and contributions, impressed me. During the next few years I immersed myself in special collections and archives, securing myself a position at the Mortimer Rare Book Room assisting the professional staff in anyway I could. My enthusiasm paid off: I was recommended to alumna, Judith Glazer-Raymo ('53), to present Plath's poetry at The Grolier Club's annual poetry event. I returned to Plath's work and history on many occasions throughout the rest of my time at Smith College, individually, as well as with other scholars in the Northeast in various presentations and exhibitions.

The Lilly Library (source)
As my time at Smith came to a close in 2013, I knew I wanted to continue my studies in the archives. I was accepted to the Master of Library Science graduate program at Indiana University, Bloomington to earn my MLS with a specialization in Archives and Records Management. Being accepted to a graduate school was a thrilling in and of itself, but it came with it's own promising situation: more Plath. While Smith has much of her later works (poems, correspondence, photographs), IU possesses materials from the duration of her life, the bulk of which are from 1932-1955. Before arriving on the IU campus, I made a point to get in touch with Lilly Library Director, Joel Silver, and Manuscripts Curator, Cherry Williams. Admittedly, I was more excited about the prospect of my coming than they were! But thankfully after my first (second, and third) trips to the Lilly, they got to know me beyond the typical researcher.

Being from Massachusetts originally, the distance between the two states has not been lost on me. I recognize the privilege I have by being so close to the Lilly's Plath manuscripts, and have made myself available as a proxy researcher to contacts like Judith Glazer-Raymo and Amanda Golden. Paralleling my time at Smith, I took archives/special collections classes at the Lilly, Manuscripts and Processing Manuscript Collections, which lead me to find a position as a Manuscripts Assistant for the Manuscripts Archivist, Craig Simpson. Craig asked me my interests when I was hired, and the work he had planned worked out perfectly with my interests. Many Indiana University repositories follow Greene and Meissner's "More Product, Less Process" (MPLP) (2005) in order to make collections available to researchers in a more timely manner. Though this practice is based in accessibility, the downside is that small details of collections are absent until an archivist can return to them at a later date (well, let's be real: interns and students are typically the ones returning!). This is the case with collections of materials in all repositories that employ MPLP, the Plath manuscript (mss) included. Some of my first projects at the Lilly involved me updating Plath descriptions and inventories for mss III, IV, V, IX, X, and XI (reference Guide to the Plath Materials for more information).

"The Bell Jar Revisited",
curated by Amanda Ferrara, 2013, 
Smith College
Plath mss III allows researchers privy access to the artistic side of the poet we so frequently hear about. Her watercolors, and pastels remind me of the color focused juvenilia "Midsummer Mobile" in hue and style: "With orange scallops tangled in wet hair, / Fresh from the mellow palette of Matisse," while her drawings are more serious. Snapshots of her younger years are in Plath mss 5 and Plath mss 10. Her illustrated manuscripts and contributions to the Alice L. Phillips Junior High School's literary supplement, The Phillipian, show her talent, or maybe determination?, at a young age. Mrs. Aurelia Plath is not forgotten of course, she being the reason the Plath collection is at the Lilly altogether. Plath mss 9 features correspondence between Mrs. Plath and Olive Clifford Eaton (a neighbor in Winthrop, MA), Mary Alice Ericson (Olive Eaton's daughter), and Margery DeLerno (Olive Eaton's daughter), an interesting look into where Plath came from.

There are many more gems for researchers to search for and find, in the now unhidden Plath manuscript collections at the Lilly Library. Personally, I have enjoyed the process of returning to these manuscripts due to my original curiosity of Plath related topics. I think many archivists fear that our work in processing collections will go unnoticed and unused by the public, but my experience with the Plath mss at the Lilly has given me hope that this is not the case. The collections are appreciated at both institutions, and I am thankful my work is a part of that collective. There is still much work to be done, not only with the Plath collections, but with all archival materials, and I hope I can be a part of that in whatever small or large way I am afforded in the future.

If you would like to contact Amanda regarding Plath research at Indiana University's Lilly Library, please contact her via email.

All links accessed 28 April 2015.


suki said...

How exciting!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. it's fantastic to see how Sylvia's archives inspire students to learn and focus their futures.

Peter - this is like the third guest blog post in a row! Are you all dried up for content?

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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.