May Sarton Biography


May Sarton was born Eléanore Marie Sarton, the daughter of George Sarton, an eminent philosopher and author of a four-volume history of science, and Mabel Sarton, an artist and designer. Because she was born on May 3, she was called May. In 1916, her parents emigrated from Belgium to the United States because of the events of World War I. The Sartons settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where George taught part time at Harvard University.

May was a precocious child; she wrote poetry from the age of nine, and some of her poems were published when she was seventeen. She attended an innovative high school in Cambridge known as Shady Hill School. Her future path was set: She would attend Vassar College and then marry a prominent man. After seeing the renowned actress Eva La Gallienne star in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (pb. 1890, pr. 1891; English translation, 1891) in 1928, however, Sarton became devoted to the theater. She became a member of the Civic Repertory Theater in New York City, then the founder and director of her own theater company in New York City from 1933 to 1935. Although her company failed, partly as a result of the Depression, she found a new direction in her life when she drew upon one of her many strengths and reinvented herself as a writer.

Sarton’s first book was a collection of poems, Encounter in April (1937), which explored themes related to the differences between physical passion and love. In order to support her career as a writer, she began a cycle of almost forty years devoted to teaching, lecturing, and reading from her works. She taught creative writing, was a poet-in-residence, and lectured at several colleges and universities over the next forty years, including Harvard University and Bryn Mawr College, and the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. At her death, she was the author of more than fifty books—novels, books of poetry, nonfiction works—including her journals, children’s books, essays, and other writings.

Her first novel, The Single Hound, was published in 1938, and her second book of poetry, Inner Landscape, was published in 1939. After World...

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May Sarton’s public and private lives were not separate and distinct, as is the case for most writers and celebrities. Through a lifetime of writing memoirs, journals, novels, and poems, Sarton shared the details of her childhood, her relationships to her parents, significant friendships, love affairs, and aspects of her daily living in the context of a solitary life. She triumphed as a writer because she maintained freshness and originality and avoided repeating narrow formulas. In her journals, she strove to discern a synthesis of her overall experience by devoting herself to a rigorous examination of what all of her moods and experiences meant to her on a particular day, as well as in the larger context of her life’s work....

(The entire section is 158 words.)