Anne Sexton was born Anne Gray Harvey November 9, 1929, in Newton, Massachusetts. She spent most of her childhood in Boston, attending boarding school before finishing one year at Garland Junior College. She met and married Alfred Sexton, and they had two daughters. Sexton struggled with mental illness for much of her adult life, experiencing severe postpartum depression after the births of her children, and suffering several mental breakdowns with subsequent stays in a psychiatric hospital. After her children went to live with her in-laws, Sexton’s long-term doctor at Glenside Hospital encouraged her to take up writing as an outlet, and it was shortly thereafter that she attended her first poetry workshop.
Sexton’s poetry met with quick success and was accepted to several publications. She also studied under Robert Lowell, where she met contemporaries like Sylvia Plath and Maxine Kumin. Sexton was greatly influenced by these and other confessional-style poets like W.D. Snodgrass, to whom she related, as he, too, was separated from his child at the time. Sexton’s poetry was often personal and addressed her own emotional torment with depression in addition to tackling other controversial topics like abortion and drug addiction. Despite her lifelong battle with mental illness, Sexton was a much-honored poet during her career, winning the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for Live or Die. She was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the first female member of Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard chapter. Despite her talent and success, Sexton lost her battle with mental illness on October 4, 1974, when she committed suicide.