Anne Gray Harvey Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)
ph_0111206437-Sexton.jpg Anne Sexton in 1967. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Anne Sexton was born Anne Gray Harvey on November 9, 1928, in Newton, Massachusetts. The third child of wealthy wool manufacturer Ralph Churchill Harvey and his wife, Mary Gray Staples, Anne was surrounded by luxury. The four-story Harvey house contained living quarters for maids, a cook, and a butler. Anne, however, felt overlooked and unwanted, and even as a child she developed a reputation for doing daring and drastic things just to be noticed. Later, she would write of her economically comfortable childhood with bitterness rather than nostalgia.

Her years in the public schools of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and then at the boarding school Rogers Hall were marked by episodes of rebelliousness. After graduation, she enrolled in the Garland School, a Boston finishing school. In 1948, before her twentieth birthday, she eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II, a sophomore at Colgate University.

Anne and “Kayo,” as she called him, then led such a difficult life for five years or so that she must have at least at that time looked back with regret at her privileged childhood. The couple moved to Hamilton, New York, where Kayo attempted to finish his education, but financial pressures were extreme. Then Kayo joined the Naval Reserve and shipped out; Anne lived sometimes with her parents and sometimes with his, while she used her dazzling good looks to support herself by working as a model between his leaves.

In 1953, she gave birth to Linda Gray Sexton, her first child; she found this experience shocking and devastating. It now became apparent that Anne suffered from serious emotional troubles. Her illness was triggered by the birth of her first child, but it continued to plague her for the rest of her life. She was treated for depression and attempted suicide but seemed to be making a recovery when she became pregnant again. Her second daughter, Joyce Ladd Sexton, was born in August, 1955. Six months later, Anne was admitted to a mental hospital for several months, and the second...

(The entire section is 822 words.)

Anne Gray Harvey Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Anne Sexton was born Anne Gray Harvey, the daughter of upper-middle-class parents. She attended the public schools of Wellesley, Massachusetts and spent two years at Rogers Preparatory School and one year at Garland Junior College before marrying Alfred Muller Sexton, whose nickname, Kayo, provides the dedication for her first volume of poems. Although a strictly biographical approach to Anne Sexton’s work is dangerously limiting, the significant events of her life serve as major subjects and impetus for her art.

After her marriage, she worked briefly as a model at the Hart Agency of Boston. Then, when she was twenty-five, her first daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, was born. The next year, Anne Sexton was hospitalized for emotional disturbance, and several months later, she suffered the loss of her beloved great-aunt, Anna Ladd Dingley, nicknamed Nana, in various poems and remembrances. The next year, Joyce Ladd Sexton was born, but within months, her mother was again hospitalized for depression culminating in a suicide attempt on her twenty-eighth birthday.

Following her first suicide attempt, Sexton began writing poetry on the advice of her psychiatrist, Martin Orne, whose name appears in her first collection of poems. On the strength of her first work, she received a scholarship to the Antioch Writer’s Conference where she worked with W. D. Snodgrass. Then she was accepted into Robert Lowell’s graduate writing seminar at Boston...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Anne Gray Harvey Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anne Sexton was born Anne Gray Harvey. After attending public school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, she went to a prep school and then, for a year, to Garland Junior College. She married Alfred Muller Sexton and worked briefly as a model. Her daughter Linda was born when Sexton was twenty-five. Sexton is often called a “confessional” poet (as are W. D. Snodgrass, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath, who were her friends). Many of her poems indeed include the word “confession” or comparable religious language, yet the label is somewhat misleading. Despite displaying moments of remorse, her verse more often celebrates than bemoans unconventional behavior. Readers have admired her courage in breaking taboos, in struggling “part way back” from madness, and in admitting all that she did. Rather than furnishing accurate confessions, she changes details skillfully for dramatic effect.

Many of her best poems tailor autobiography to accentuate similarities between herself and literary characters or historical figures. For example, she began all her public readings with her poem “Her Kind,” which identifies her with persecuted witches. In an interview with Barbara Kevles, Sexton explained that she thought of herself as being “many people,” including the “Christ” (of another of her poems), whose pain she felt as she wrote it. She spoke of mystical visions accompanied by the same sensations she felt when composing poetry.

The salvation she sought may have been momentarily attained through the poetic experience of adopting a persona or role. It distanced her from daily problems and permitted her to look at herself from new vantage points. She longed to be a character living in an imaginary place of forgiveness and reconciliation that she termed “Mercy Street” (in her more pious moments she fervently prayed for it to be real). Assuming...

(The entire section is 766 words.)