The following is a fourth guest blog post by Annette Stevens. Previous interviews with Elizabeth Winder, Andrew Wilson, and Peter K. Steinberg appear on her Mademoiselle Women website.
Hello Karen, thank you for agreeing to this interview. When did you first become interested in Sylvia Plath and why?
Thank you for inviting me. I first became interested in Sylvia Plath when I took an English seminar on ‘Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath’ with Professor Dianne Hunter at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, during the spring 1974 semester. I remember that my final paper was about Sylvia Plath’s influence on the poetry of Ted Hughes, particularly Ariel’s influence on Crow. This particular English course changed my life
Please could you describe your job and duties at Smith College?
For the past twenty-five years, I have curated the papers of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. My official title is Associate Curator of Special Collections, which means that I work in all sections of special collections (Mortimer Rare Book Room, Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History Archives, and the Smith College Archives). There are about 45,000 rare books at Smith and 20,000 linear feet of manuscripts. I teach classes and provide reference service to scholars around the world using all this material. I am also on the faculty for our Archives Concentration Program at Smith College.
Have you ever worked previously in the publishing industry, prior to the publication of the Plath Diaries you edited?
My first job when I graduated from Trinity College in 1975 was as a typesetter and graphic artist for Belle Typesetting Company. I remember that I designed a yoga book as one of my first assignments. From 1976-1986 I worked for Yale University at the Lewis Walpole Library, an estate library focused on the work of British, eighteenth-century writer Horace Walpole. It was my privilege to assist the great collector Wilmarth S. Lewis and the editors of the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. I learned many of my editorial practices from Wilmarth S. Lewis who was a superb writer and editor. I also took a useful indexing course when I was in graduate school at Southern Connecticut State University where I received my M.L.S. in 1982. The unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath were published in London by Faber and Faber and Anchor Books in New York in 2000. In 2003, I co-hosted the Thirteenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf at Smith College and edited a volume of Selected Papers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2005. When Stephen Enniss acquired the Ted Hughes Papers for Emory University, we co-curated a joint exhibition in New York at the Grolier Club in 2005 with a catalogue on ‘No Other Appetite’: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry.
Would you ever consider writing a book about Plath yourself?
I am currently editing Sylvia Plath’s Letters with Peter Steinberg for Frieda Hughes. Plath’s letters will be published in London by Faber and Faber. I am also co-curating an exhibition with Dorothy Moss on Sylvia Plath for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. One Life: Sylvia Plath will open in 2017. I love bringing Plath’s original manuscripts and letters into broader circulation. But as for your question, I have no plans to write a book about Sylvia Plath.
There's debate online about whether manuscripts not intended for publication-i.e letters and diaries-should or shouldn't be published. What do you think?
Sylvia Plath’s copyrights are owned by her daughter, Frieda Hughes. It was Frieda Hughes who asked me to edit her mother’s journals and her mother’s letters. Since the family made this decision after careful consideration, I never questioned their choice. I am fascinated by the complexity of daily life that women writers need to navigate in order to succeed. I am grateful that Virginia Woolf’s diaries, for example, have been published in great detail. They were an inspiration to Sylvia Plath and the journals of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf are an inspiration to me and to other writers.
Do you think it would be fair to say that Sylvia was a 'victim of her era' ?
I don’t think of Sylvia Plath as a victim. She was resilient and fearless in spite of family traumas and the medical treatment she received, such as poorly administered electroconvulsive therapy, dangerous insulin injections, and Parnate for depression, which has all sorts of side effects. Although her life was short, Sylvia Plath had an incredibly rich experience (Books, Babies, and Beef Stews) and wrote some of the best poetry and prose of the twentieth century that is as fresh and honest today as it was over fifty years ago.
For anyone who wishes to follow in your footsteps, do you have any advice?
Robust education, continual professional development, and constant deep learning are very important to me, but it is also essential to risk and embrace challenge. I certainly don’t see myself as particularly extroverted, but I was able to give my first public lecture about editing Sylvia Plath’s Journals to English PEN in 2000 at the Café Royal in London and my first PowerPoint lecture on ‘Sylvia Plath’s Women and Poetry’ at Oxford in 2007 It is also important to surround yourself with good people. I am particularly lucky to have a supportive husband, Bo, and incredibly knowledgeable colleagues and mentors who have helped me along the way.
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.
- "Banking on his passion for Plath" by Melissa Davis Haller. UMW Today. Spring 2005.
- "Sylvia Plath's Three Women to be staged in London" by Alison Flood. The Guardian. 3 December 2008.
- "FBI files on Sylvia Plath's father shed new light on poet" by Dalya Alberge. The Guardian. 17 August 2012.
- "There Are Almost No Obituaries for Sylvia Plath" by Ashley Fetters. The Atlantic. 11 February 2013.