21 December 2017

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2017

2017 is rapidly coming to a close. As of right now this is supposed to be the last Sylvia Plath Info Blogpost of the year. There was, it seems, a buzz about Sylvia Plath and 2017. Don't you think? As with years passed, this blog posts looks seeks to review the year that was in Sylvia Plath. Largely from my perspective, which is limited admittedly, but I hope as always it refreshes our memories at what was undoubtedly a packed, memorable year.

Sadly early in the year, Plath's friend Elizabeth Sigmund passed away. I began communicating with Elizabeth after a 2009 Guardian article ran on "Three Women" that I was interviewed for and she sought me out. We became good friends and I was thrilled to introduce her and Gail Crowther and they became even better friends. I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth and her husband William in person, with Gail, in March 2013 when presenting a paper at Plymouth University. Elizabeth was --and still is-- a lovely person. There may be more, but two other deaths that I know of are Plath's editor at Knopf Judith Jones, and former boyfriend Richard Sassoon.

There were a few books to come out this year, you might have heard of them? Gail Crowther got the year off on a great start with The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath was published by Fonthill on 10 February 2017. I was thrilled to conduct this interview with her. This was followed in May by the publication of These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath also published by Fonthill and co-authored by Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg. Danuta Kean at The Guardian broke a story about one of the findings that Gail and I discuss in the book about two lost poems that were found on a piece of carbon typing paper. I was in New Zealand at the time on holiday (and proofing the Letters) so missed out on a chance to discuss this on various BBC programs but Gail did a spectacular job in my absence. Julia Gordon-Bramer published the first two books in her "Decoding Sylvia Plath" series which look at, respectively "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus". Look for more from her in 2018. Zsófia Demjén published Sylvia Plath and the Language of Affective States: Written Discourse and the Experience of Depression with Bloomsbury. And in November, Merve Emre published Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America with University of Chicago Press. Plath features prominently in Chapter Two: "Reading as Feeling".

The biggest book by far, both in size and coverage, though was the long-awaited The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956 edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (Faber and Faber; HarperCollins). The book made a splash in England for the wrong reason but was otherwise reviewed in some big publications and England and America. A bibliography of these reviews can be seen on my website.  It thrills me beyond expression to have these first 838 letters in your hands. (In conjunction with the letters, Faber reissued Crossing the Water and Winter Trees.) Volume 2 was delivered to the publisher on 27 October 2017.

Speaking of letters, in March we learned that the archive of Harriet Rosenstein, a would-be but never-was Plath biographer, was for sale and included some highly sought after papers such as 14 letters written by Plath to Dr. Ruth Beuscher. This sparked some controversy as a result of Smith College opening a lawsuit against Rosenstein, which is still ongoing. At the time of writing the letters are still unavailable to researchers. A lot of really bad information was printed in news stories that broke, the first one of which was by Danuta Kean of The Guardian. One happy result of this though was that as a result of this we got the 8 letters from Plath to Melvin Woody and we got them into the first volume just in the nick of time. And I mean, it was truly a stressful, photo finish.

Let's look at some of the posts that appeared on this blog! In January the year got off to a good start, I think as I made some upgrades to my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is. The upgrade? I added article transcriptions of all the articles on Plath's first suicide attempt. I have always liked having transcriptions of materials, even for articles like this with a massive redundancy of information, because it means text is findable in a flash either on my computer or on the internet. January also had the only "Did you know…" for the year which is a long, rambling and I hope interesting post.

There were five posts in particular that were a lot of fun to work on and had been on my mind to do for years. And all are from Plath mss II at the Lilly Library. In March there were posts on the manuscripts of two Plath poetry collections. Circus in Three Rings was compiled in the spring of 1955 during her last semester at Smith College. The Colossus was submitted to the Yale Series of Younger poets in February 1960. Working on these I dug deeply into the poems that were assembled and investigated their composition dates. The other two posts looked at Plath's High School Scrapbook and her Smith College Scrapbook. I had worked with these in March 2015 and spent some time over the next two years enjoying and transcribing them. Look for an essay on Plath's scrapbooks, too, in Tracy Brain's forthcoming Sylvia Plath in Context. They are two of my most favorite Plath documents and getting to work with and on them so closely was a dream. The fifth feature from the Lilly Library was a catalog of dates and places of photographs in the Lameyer mss. All of these things are of interest to me which is why I guess I spend so much time on them. I really hope you enjoy this kind of thing as well.

In August I started a series -- another long term thing I have been interested in and working on but the letters disrupted some opportunities for personal research and writing, not that I am complaining -- on The Education of Sylvia Plath. In this, I looked at the courses she was taking at Smith College and include, where possible, the papers or creative works that she composed: 1950-1951, 1951-1952, 1952-1953, 1954, and 1954-1955.

Getting outside voices and opinions on any Sylvia Plath topic is always a good thing as it presents a different perspective here than mine (and it relieves me of some of the self-put-upon pressure to do new posts). Guest posts this year were by Gail Crowther on power and politics in the archive; Gesa Matthes on her film The Lady in the Book, Sylvia Plath Portraits; Sheila Hamilton on The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, and Bella Biddle on two Sylvia Plath Conference panels.

If The Letters was the biggest publication, the biggest event of the year was Maeve O'Brien's two-day conference Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words, and Fragments held at Ulster University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bringing together more than 50 Plath scholars from around the world, this was the fourth major international conference for Plath since 2002. Day One was special as all the papers given were attended by each person; Day Two was structured with concurrent panels before Karen and I gave keynote talks. As with past conferences, there were some art exhibits on display, too, with contributions this time around from Christine Walde and Kristina Zimbakova. It was a warm, collegial event and I was so happy to see so many people had already made use of The Letters. It was fantastic, too, to see old friends and make many new acquaintances. Meeting someone in person that you've previously only emailed with or had contact through social media is a special thing. On a long layover in London I decided to escape the airport and walk around Primrose Hill. Joined by Nick and Kathrine Smart, we somehow stumbled into an unguided tour of Plath and Hughes's flat at 3 Chalcot Square. Needless to say, I had a happy flight home for sure.

There were two exhibits on Plath this year, too. What a year 2017 was! I mean, seriously! The One Life: Sylvia Plath exhibit opened in late June at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. It's on for nearly a year, so please do try to see it. The exhibition marries pieces of Plath's archives from Smith College, the Lilly Library, and private collectors. Judith Raymo, a classmate of Plath's at Smith College, exhibited selections from her personal collection of Sylvia Plath books and manuscripts at the Grolier Club. In conjunction with the exhibit, Karen, Heather Clark, and I gave papers at a one day symposium.

A look at the stats from the blog! From 1 December 2016 to 30 November 2017 the most popular pages on A celebration, this is were: Biography, Johnny Panic synopses, The Bell Jar, Publications, and Poetry Works. Like last year, let's look at duration. The pages that people spent the most time on were: The Bell Jar (4:54), Biography (4:39), Johnny Panic synopses (4:22), Works Index (2:58), and Publications (2:57). The total number of hits, combined, for blog and the website was 67,999 (page views is a higher number at: 106,459).This is the first year that blog hits exceeded those on the website. I do not know or understand why. However, pageviews were higher on the website. By country, most visitors to the blog come from the USA, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia, and The Netherlands. For the website, it is slightly different: USA, UK, India, Russia, and Canada.

All year long I have been doing a random "Sylvia Plath read" each day and posting it under the hashtag #VitaminP. This has been a lot of fun, though a couple of days I forgot to include the hashtag (this was pre-280 characters for sure) and I did miss posting one day here and there, though I did do a reading. I know of at least one person who has been doing their own daily Sylvia Plath read, which is exciting. I might try to keep it up into 2018. It gets me reading something by Plath each day, and has started some conversations too. So if I do keep it up, please pardon any duplicates. Or triplicates. Or more! I could read "The Night Dances" every day and be sustained.

To top it off, I had three pieces published this year as well. In September, the lovely magazine Fine Books & Collections printed "The Persistence of Plath". This article discussed two exhibits (One Life: Sylvia Plath and Judith Raymo's) and The Letters of Sylvia Plath. In October Faber published a short piece I wrote on their blog about some of the work that went into the editing of the letters. Also in October, the journal Court Green re-launched and I was thrilled to see a piece I wrote included: "A Fetish Somehow": A Sylvia Plath Bookmark. Sorry to bombard you all with Plath!! Maybe I will take a year off sometime!

2018 should see us all getting closer, day-by-day, to Heather Clark's highly anticipated new biography of Plath (which I think is scheduled for 2019). And, of course, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963 is coming out… Right now publication date for the Faber edition is set for 6 September 2018, and we should see the first proof in January! How exciting! Look for updates here or on Twitter as and when I get them (and can share the information).

Long-term visitors to this blog will recognize that since 2013 there has been a massive drop off in posts and that was in large part due to work being doing on The Letters of Sylvia Plath. You have all been incredibly patient and supportive during that project; and thank you all for sticking with me and the blog for the duration. 2017 was the tenth anniversary of the Sylvia Plath Info Blog! And 2018 will be the twentieth anniversary of A celebration, this is. It is really, really hard for me to think that this is true, that it is possible for me to have been at it this long. But it is. Thank you all very, very, very much for all your emails, comments, tweets, and even phone calls. Thank you! Happy end of the year to you. Safe travels, happy reading.

All linked accessed 15-16, 22 November and 13 and 21 December 2017.


Amy Rea said...

I'm still doing Daily Plath!

Peter K Steinberg said...

Amy!! Yeah! I'm going to continue it into 2018, I think. It's a good thing to do and I have found myself reading things I've unintentionally avoided! ~pks

Anonymous said...

By country, most visitors to the blog come from the USA, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia, and The Netherlands. For the website, it is slightly different: USA, UK, India, Russia, and Canada.

...and no Italy at all? �� me! �� maybe the only one from this country.. but me always here, present, ill or healthy, happy or sad, super busy and taken from things & problems in my life or in free time, always here, faithful,for 17years now, faithful to Peter, his website, his teachings/discoveries/news/books, and faithful to Sylvia. Another amazing year in your both company has almost gone, another, and more amazing one is soon coming, happy Xmas holidays to you too, Peter, happy end of the year to you too and a more happy start of the coming one. Thank you for EVERYTHING Plathian and for the beautiful and good and precious person you are. Playing with you is always more thrilling.
Sincerely, Alina (from Italy!!!! The country not in the stats! �� )

Anonymous said...

P.s. at published comment of mine I notice some question points where I put instead winking smiley faces. Just FYI

Peter K Steinberg said...

Alina - Thank you for your comment; I appreciate so much having you has a constant reader here and on Twitter. So so much! I listed just the top five... Italy was 6th on the blog (just nine hits fewer than The Netherlands) and 11th on the website. ~pks

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

2017 was a fine year for Plath. Thanks for the mention!

Amy Rea said...

I'm continuing into 2018 as well!

Anonymous said...

Oh come on Peter my saying about Italy missing in the stats was just to joke! I'm definitely not the right person to ask for exclusiveness ..i was just kidding. There was utterly no need ,from you, to give explanations about it. I hardly joke in life and when I do it am sorry to see that I'm not understood . Thank u, u are too kind.

Anonymous said...

It was meant to be: *PlaTHing with you is always more thrilling


A Piece of Plathery said...

Merry Merry Christmas Peter, I am certainly still here following all things Plath. Letters V1 is wonderful as will be Letters V2.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hope everyone is having a special, warm, healthy holiday season. Julia - My pleasure. Amy: Yes! I'd love to know more about your daily Plath reads via Twitter, if you want to share this. Alina, sorry that I took the joke too seriously; but at the same time I was glad to look that information up to see just how popular (for lack of a better word) the blog is to Italian visitors. And, Plathery: V2 is on the way and I hope you find it as wonderful as V1.

Thank you all for reading! ~pks

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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.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (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, Volume 1, 1940-1956. 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. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • 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. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • 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. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • 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. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.