Sexton was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1928, and spent most of her life near Boston. In 1945, Sexton began attending a boarding school, Rogers Hall, in Lowell, Massachusetts. She eloped in 1948 with Alfred Muller Sexton, known as "Kayo." Before their divorce in the early 1970s, she had two children with Kayo: Linda Gray Sexton, later a novelist and memoirist, and Joyce Sexton.
Tragically, she suffered from depression for most of her life; in fact, her poetry was prescribed as a possible remedy and eventual cure for her condition. Sexton's first breakdown took place in 1954,
After a second breakdown in 1955, Anne met Dr. Martin Orne at Glenside Hospital, who encouraged her to take up poetry writing, and she enrolled in her first poetry workshop, with John Holmes as the instructor.
She attended a poetry workshop with Sylvia Plath, taught by Robert Lowell. Later, Sexton herself taught workshops at Boston College, Oberlin College, and Colgate College. Anne Sexton is the modern model of the confessional poet, one perhaps begun by the publication of Heart's Needle, by W.D. Snodgrass. In this sense, Sexton helped open the door not only for female poets, but for female issues; Sexton wrote about menstruation, abortion, masturbation, and adultery before such issues were even topics for casual discussion, helping redefine the boundaries of poetry.
Anne Sexton was a stunningly beautiful woman, who, for a brief period had modeled for Boston's Hart Agency. Indeed, with James Dickey, Anne Sexton was one of the poetry celebrities during this time, famous across the United States.
The title for her eighth collection of poetry, The Awful Rowing Toward God, came from her meeting with a Catholic priest who, although he refused to administer the last rites, did tell her: "God is in your typewriter," which gave the poet the desire and willpower to continue living and writing for some more time.
She committed suicide in 1974, after winning the admiration of Robert Lowell, close friend Maxine Kumin, James Dickey, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sylvia Plath, among others. She is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery & Crematory, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
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