18 December 2019

Sylvia Plath Year in Review 2019

So what did you think of Sylvia Plath in 2019?

It seemed to be a year dominated by Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom, the short story published in the UK and the US in January and then which started appearing in translations. It is wonderful a newly published short story could kind of captivate its readers across the globe, which I think is a great sign that Plath--and her work--is in demand. As in the past, this is a look back at the year as I lived it.

It seems I spent most of January publicizing the story on the blog, as well as the real Mary Ventura, who was a friend of Plath's in Wellesley in the mid-to-late 1940s. I spent most of the month of January, too, packing up my belongings and changing jobs and states. Sadly I still do not feel settled but, well, I will get there eventually. It is weird not being in Plath's backyard any longer after twenty years… But, you probably do not want to read my moaning, you want to read about Plath.

At any rate, I think Mary Ventura stole the year for the most part and already a number of translations have been published or are forthcoming (French, Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Dutch. The Dutch edition is included in a reissue of The Bell Jar.). This was the first new creative writing (prose, short fiction) published by Plath since 1979. That is a forty year famine.



February was a slim month in many regards. The only blog post worth re-mentioning is the one on Plath and Forster which I loved writing. I loved Howards End, too. I spent February adjusting to my new life and reading the manuscript of Carl Rollyson's forthcoming The Last Days of Sylvia Plath.

In March, HarperCollins kept the Mary Ventura train rolling (see what I did there?) by issuing a hardback edition. I like that they flipped the normal publication cycle by issuing a paperback first. I was also asked to meet with Carla Zanoni, then of the Wall Street Journal, to discuss the book in NYC. What a privilege that was. This was followed in early April by a Letters of Sylvia Plath talk at Stockton University, coordinated by my good friend Emily Van Duyne. She and her school completely spoiled me and I had a really wonderful time attending classes, giving the talk, meeting new people, and seeing Carl Rollyson (a true glutton of punishment who was also at the Mary Ventura event in March).

In April I received a letter from Plath herself via David Trinidad's ouija board. Following that I did a post on a postcard that I hope will become a series. I have not let that slip! I have others drafted but just have not found the right time to put them online. So, look for more in 2020! Somewhere along in there from the late winter to early Spring I was at work on the paperback editions of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. In addition to updating some mistakes and providing some new information, I found nine new letters and got them squeezed into the volumes in an Appendix, which were published in England only in September. It was awesome to again find, transcribe, proof, annotate, and index these letters for you. Like the rest of the project I completed the majority of this work. Oh! I also did a phone interview/chat with Claire Nichols, in Perth, Australia, which aired in June. That was a lot of fun.

May was a varied month with a guest post on Aurelia Plath's shorthand notations as well as news breaking about a forthcoming Bonhams auctions of things belonging to Plath's late friend Elizabeth Sigmund. I am sure the auction winners love their items but feel the same as me: I would much rather have Elizabeth.

In June, I did a fun post on some of Plath's journals that are held by the Lilly Library. This was a sort of continuation on some Journals related posts trying to date undated entries by using Plath's letters and a host of other resources. Additionally, the Plath related bits of Elizabeth's estate were sold.


Now I am sure it is not right to pick favorites, but in July my birthday-twin Amy C. Rea did a guest blog post on Cornucopia, Wisconsin and it has to be one of the best ever. I let that one stay up on the blog for more than half the month---which allowed me to take a breather. Also, I dusted off a very old blog post on Plath's appearance on the BBC's "The Living Poet" series back in 1961.

August was wicked busy with some publications as well as what has become an annual post on Plath's first suicide attempt. Though I found just one new article, it brings the total to 253. I need better hobbies. I think the publication of a book of essays called Sylvia Plath in Context, edited by Tracy Brain (and reviewed exclusively on the blog by Amy C Rea) is August's highlight though. I attended an awful conference in an awful city, and took advantage of being miserable for that week to draft nearly two dozen blog posts. Most of which still have not been posted. I like having a backlog. Some of these blog posts contain some new information which is really tough to sit on. But some of the information is not mine to break first.


A book of essays was published in Hungary, too! The title is A képzelet kockázata: Sylvia Plath életműve, élettörténete és betegsége---which translates to The risk of imagination: The oeuvre, life history and illness of Sylvia Plath---and it is edited by József Gerevich. My thanks to Dora Ocsovai for letting me know about the volume.

Gail Crowther and I co-wrote a joint blog post on her experience with the Philip Hobsbaum papers in Glasgow. This was a collection I found out about and since she is closer to Scotland than I am, she graciously offered to go. It was a reprise of our series "These Ghostly Archives" and was a super-happy-fun time. Faber & Faber issued the paperbacks of The Letters of Sylvia Plath in September. They also put out a fine Liberty edition of The Bell Jar and a new edition of Ariel (1965 contents) as part of the company's 90th anniversary. All handsome editions. Al Alvarez passed away on 23 September. Elaine Feinstein, who wrote the first biography of Ted Hughes, passed away on the same day.




What can one say about October. This was a momentous month. Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick had her book Reclaiming Assia Wevill published by LSU Press early in the month. In mid-October I gave--perhaps for the last time--a talk on my role in working on The Letters of Sylvia Plath in New York City at the Grand Central branch of the NYPL. I took the opportunity while being there to do some archiving too, which included a Living Archive experience of staying in the Roosevelt Hotel, which is where Plath saw a fashion show in June 1953. Speaking of which. I find it really annoying when people refer to her month at Mademoiselle as her "summer" as a guest editor. It was only a month. Not the summer. Sorry.


The month closed down with Plath being honored with a Google Doodle (above), and a blog post on the actual site where Plath rode the horse Ariel that inspired two poems. Another example of the Living Archive, and another post I started working on years ago but which got lost in several shuffles. Gail Crowther, Heather Clark, and Tracy Brain joined Sarah Corbett and many others for a Plath party in Hebden Bridge. I got texts and saw tweets about it and was filled with envy.

Throughout October and into November I read the manuscript of Heather Clark's forthcoming biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet (Knopf, 2020). It is a monumental work which took me about five weeks. Also, I am at work with Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick on our forthcoming book, The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill. The manuscript we thought was in fine shape until we learned of more than a dozen new letters which we feverishly transcribed, annotated, and mixed into the book. (We learned of 13 other new letters but we may not gain access to them in time. Hope springs eternal though so please cross your fingers, toes, and eyes (if you can).)

In November I launched what I hope will be a new series showing off the supporting documentation that went into writing the footnotes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. As much as I want to put that project to rest (forever!)--because I just feel like I talk about it too much--there is a lot of stuff I want to get out there because I believe in sharing information. And I believe this information is interesting. I would like to make some of these posts timely, to coincide with a particular anniversary on which Plath wrote the letter. That will not always be the case but the timing in this instance was intentional so that I could post this one on some of the information Plath mentioned to Olive Higgins Prouty on 20 November 1962.

And now it is December. It was recently announced on Twitter and then on this blog that a Sylvia Plath Society is being formed. This has been something that many have wanted for many years to be established and it is happening. The year is winding down on a great note! Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and I will be submitting our manuscript for The Selected Writings of Assia Wevill to LSU Press by the end of the month.

In 2020 are you looking back at Plath, or are you looking ahead?

In early January I will be meeting Julie, Heather Clark, and Janet Badia in Seattle to talk Plath and Wevill (and maybe Hughes) at the MLA annual conference. I will post the text of my talk after the event, and maybe some tiny slide images so you can see generally what those look like. Amanda Golden and others are participating in a panel on Scholarly Editing that I am sure will include SP.

In 2020 we already look forward to seeing a couple of translations of Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom and a reissue of The Silent Woman in the UK. In the realm of new work about Plath there is Carl Rollyson's The Last Days of Sylvia Plath (March, the University of Mississippi Press). Later in the year we have Heather Clark's highly anticipated Red Comet: A Life of Sylvia Plath (Knopf/Penguin).

There are a couple of works that is in progress that are worth mentioning. First announced is Kicking at the Door of Fame: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton by Gail Crowther (Simon & Schuster) that looks at the social rebellion of Plath and Sexton. Look for this in Spring 2021. More recently, Emily Van Duyne announced she is under contract with W. W. Norton for her book Loving Sylvia Plath. A book of essays is in the works to be published by Bloomsbury and is co-edited by Anita Helle, Amanda Golden, and Maeve O'Brien. Essays were due at the beginning of the month. They are largely pooled from the 2018 Belfast Plath conference, I think. We wish Gail, Emily, and the Bloomsbury-book crew all the most wonderful thoughts and vibes as they tackle these works. It is nice to have something to look forward to in the new decade.

Recently I renewed the domain for my website for Sylvia Plath, A celebration, this is, for another two years. I have been working on this website since 1998 which rather hard to fathom sometimes. Between the website and the blog and Twitter it is safe to say Plath is always on my mind and I am constantly working to bring you new content. Metrics have changed over the last few years with how "hits" are measured. Nowadays it is all about "impressions". The website and blog had, respectively, 3.54 million and 655,000 "impressions" from 1 December 2018 to 30 November 2019. That is more than 4 million. Impressions just means how many times a user saw a link to my sites. The most popular pages on A celebration, this is, were the Biography, Poetry Works, Thumbnails 1960-1963, Prose Works, and Johnny Panic Synopses.

Thank you all so sincerely for visiting the website and the blog, for sending comments, and replying to posts via the blog itself, email, and Twitter. Thank you for your friendship and encouragement. I would like to ask that for any content which you may have enjoyed or benefited from, please consider sending me a tip via PayPal. There are expenses associated with the work I do on Plath and while it is something I love, it does take a financial toll. Thank you for at least considering! All funds will be put towards making the website, the Sylvia Plath Info Blog, and Twitter better.

This is the last year of the 2010s! It has been an incredible decade for me Plathfessionally with writing and publishing several essays and introductions, joyfully collaborating on a book with Gail Crowther, speaking at numerous events in Indiana, Vancouver, Chicago, New York City, London, Boston, Stockton, and Belfast, and editing Plath's letters. Believe me when I say the honor and joy I take in my work is due to the fact that you are out there. The work I do is for you. You inspire me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank. You.


Thank you also for your patience in this year of changing jobs and states in which I went about nine months without access to my files and books.

Whatever you celebrate do it well, with love and family and friends, do it safely and with as much happiness as you can. Happy New Year. See you on 1 January 2020.

All links accessed 4 and 5 November, and 3, 10, and 18 December 2019.

4 comments :

Di Beddow said...

Well done Peter; a huge year for you with moving. Thank you for all the help you have given me and I will certainly thank you financially when I have learnt how to use my PayPal account! Haha! merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Amy Rea said...

Aww, you're too kind! But what a great year for Sylvia Plath Info, an always-vital resource!

A Piece of Plathery said...

Merry, merry Christmas Peter and fabulous work as always - you bring true joy and dedication to all things Plath xxxxxx

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you Di, Amy, and Plathery for your kind words and comment on this post. You're the best!! ~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.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • 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.

Interviews