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.)


(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.)