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Sylvia Plath was the first person who won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize

Goran Blazeski

Sylvia Plath was born on October 27th, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Otto Plath and Aurelia Plath. Three years after Sylvia’s birth, her family moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, where Sylvia passed much of her childhood days.

She showed her writing talents at a young age, publishing her first poem when she was only eight years old.

Sylvia Plath. Photo Credit

Sylvia Plath. Photo Credit

Her father, Otto Plath, refusing any medical treatment, died of gangrene complications in 1940. At the time, Sylvia was 8 years old. Besides being raised as a devoted Christian, she had lost her faith in God when her father died. Shortly after her father’s death, Sylvia wrote one of her most popular poems, Daddy, in which she described her relationship with him. Otto’s death also came as a relief for Sylvia for Otto was a strict parent, with an authoritarian attitude towards his children.

In 1950, Sylvia received a scholarship to attend Smith College. During her college years, she kept a diary in which she wrote about most private and deepest feelings. She had also captured ideas for poems and stories in her diary. Being a perfectionist, Sylvia wrote her poems carefully, keeping an eye on the syllables and the length of the lines and stanzas.

During her third year at the Smith’s college, Sylvia became the editor of The Smith Review and was awarded a prestigious position as a guest editor of Mademoiselle Magazine. From that time on, she became more and more depressed. She could neither write, nor sleep, nor read. This depressive period of her life served as an inspiration for the only novel that she wrote –  The Bell Jar.

Sylvia Plath, sitting sideways to the camera

Sylvia Plath, sitting sideways to the camera

After she was rejected from the Harvard Writing Program, Sylvia made her first suicide attempt by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She was found three days later and sent to a mental institution. After six months of electric and insulin shocks, she was released from the hospital and managed to graduate from Smith with the highest honors and obtained a scholarship to Cambridge University in England where she continued to write poetry.

The former poet laureate Ted Hughes

The former poet laureate Ted Hughes

In London, she met the poet Ted Hughes whom she married shortly after. In 1960, she published her first collection of poems titled The Colossus. In her poems, she expressed despair, cynism, violent emotion, and obsession with death.

At the beginning of 1962, Sylvia started to write terrific, powerful poetry. She wrote the best poems of her life which were later published by Ted Hughes, in a collection titled Ariel. The collection was extremely well received. It featured her best poems including Daddy and Lady Lazarus.

Plath's grave at Heptonstall church, West Yorkshire. Photo Credit

Plath’s grave at Heptonstall church, West Yorkshire. Photo Credit

After six years of marriage, Sylvia and Ted separated after she found out about his affair with Assia Wevill. Unable to cope with her depression, she committed suicide using her gas oven. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Here is another fun read from our poetry files:Percy Bysshe Shelley was a Romantic poet loved by three sisters: Fanny Imlay, Claire Clairmont and Mary Shelley

After her death, Ted Hughes published another volume of Sylvia’s work titled The Collected Poems which won her the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, posthumously in 1982.