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Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,595 ratings  ·  37 reviews
An expression of an extraordinary poet's life story in her own words, this book shows Anne Sexton as she really was in private, as she wrote about herself to family, friends, fellow poets, and students. Anne's daughter Linda Gray Sexton and her close confidant Lois Ames have judiciously chosen from among thousands of letters and provided commentary where necessary. Illustr ...more
Paperback, 433 pages
Published October 1st 2004 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 1977)
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4.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,595 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, favorites
Chaotic, theatrical, and exuberant, Anne Sexton's letters chart the peaks and valleys of her turbulent career as a writer: they also give some insight into her relationships with her peers and, more interestingly, her ambivalence towards acquiring a level of fame unprecedented for a poet.
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poets, favourites
I had this sitting on four stars because I just didn't feel as if I loved it but when reading it, I couldn't put it down. I so rarely find that in books these days; I always feel as if I am forcing myself to plod through them. So really, I'd rate this 4.5. I think maybe I expected a little bit more, I thought her letters might've been more interesting? I don't know what it was, maybe I was anticipating more diary-like revelations but she was quite restrained, particularly towards the end. I mean ...more
Jul 04, 2008 added it
It's difficult to give this book a rating because I couldn't finish reading it!! I tried my utmost and even passed the halfway mark, but her words and her emotions stayed with me and drained me.

In some of the letters you really get to know her as a happy person. Her relationship with the monk, for example, can only be said to have been a good one. But all her letters have a desperation about them that you just want to meet her in person and tell her that all will be fine. Take her time in Europ
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Anne Sexton – A Self-Portrait in Letters

… As you say, I do act aggressive. I think the trouble is that my mind, my thinking mind, is aggressive. I am a machine of ideas. I adore (in a funny way) to think. I mean in a class like that I am very stimulated . . . but in fact, I do not mean to really be there after I have spoken . . . I often think of your analysis. I would like speaking, but not being there. It would be like your “Red Studio.” And that turns us back to figuring YOU out. I like figu
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was ok
I had a severe love/hate relationship with this book. I was determined to get through it, but prolonged attempts at reading it would usually result in my throwing the book across the room. Sexton is a tremendous poet, but this collection of her letters brought her lesser qualities into plain view. Normally that's one of the things I appreciate about letter/journal collections, but in this case it worked against my opinion of her.
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
I want to give this at least four stars, because it was a fascinating read, but the fact that it's edited and put together by her daughter makes me feel somewhat dubious. It's not a rose-colored portrait, but it's the portrait of a daughter. Totally recommended reading though for anyone who likes auto-biographies or Anne Sexton or both.
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting read, but if you are anything like me, you have to take a break from it every now and then or you will feel like you are going a little bit crazy yourself. It is a very intense trip throught the mind of a brilliant albeit very mental unstable woman.
Stephanie Keil
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
who's going to kill herself first? Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath?
Leslie McWilliams Marcy
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I remember this being very good, but I need to read it again now that I'm older.
I'm sure the difference in reading this book at 33 with half grown children & half a postsecondary education & 45 with a career & an empty nest is a much greater span of life than just 12 years.
I'll likely be really reading it for the first time.
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's a hard read and a slow read, but also a good one.
First bunch of letters is youthful, very recognisable in a way of trying to "happen to the world", as Anne later writes in one of her last letters to her daughter Linda.
All of them are great in being totally unapologetic - not in the words, but in personality. There's much chaos, volcanoes without trying to lessen, tune down, or narrow anything
You also have to admire her negotiation skills, boy, she needed no "lean in". To get what she want
Meghan Portillo
I give this book four stars because I honestly do not like Anne Sexton as a person - or as a poet really. I was very curious about her so I read Anne Sexton: A Biography and found that I didn't care for her as a person. I then read Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, Anne Sexton and found that I really disliked her (it could be I'm biased because my own mother was mentally ill ...). So ... having said this, why did I feel the need to read her letters?? I LOVE r ...more
Jen Selinsky
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I first heard about Anne Sexton in one of my American literature classes in college, when we studied some of her works. Even though I was interested in a few of her poems at the time, I was quick to put her (and her writing) out of my mind. It wasn't until a few years later that I rediscovered Anne at the library where I work. I happened to see a book called "Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters" on the sale shelf. Curious, I flipped through some of the pages and started reading fragments of ...more
I started this book a while ago and find myself picking it up from time to time. it's more revealing than I expected. her letters are manic, self absorbed - ups and downs of mood.

As I recall, Plath's letters were sterile, writing about the craft as if it were a self-negating chore of achievement. Nin wrote about living, loving, sex - how to become a writer by embracing life and Paris.

I'm having difficulty getting into the Sexton book because of her focus on herself and the way her mental state i
Mar 09, 2013 added it
I read most of the book, but can't bring myself to rate it. I had no previous knowledge of Anne Sexton's work, and must admit that I don't have the "poetry gene". I appreciate poetic language in the form of a well stated idea, I enjoy many song lyrics, but there is something about poetry that I just don't get. Anne Sexton got it, and her letters reveal a woman who rabidly pursued her art and actively sought to better her words in poetry. I deeply admire that quality in anyone, and fervently wish ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A collection of letters written by Anne Sexton, edited and annotated by her eldest daughter, Linda, and her closest living friend, the poet Maxine Kumin, illustrated with several photographs. While Sexton's poems are often tangled and mysteriously symbolic, her letters are often exuberant, unabashedly unfiltered, unedited, and wildly passionate. She tends toward words in all capitals, long strings of exclamation points and question marks, and ellipses. A refreshingly honest, often funny, and ver ...more
Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Anne Sexton was a crazy, brilliant, brash poet. She was also a suburban Boston housewife. I loved how she accepted the conventional (in some measure) in her home life and still created a type of poetry that hadn't existed before. Even more remarkable, she did this almost entirely on her own--without a college degree or much of a writing community of any kind. She just started writing in her kitchen in her spare time.
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was an ever-present memory, unlike any journals or letters that I've read from authors who have unfortunately ended their own lives. In all those other ones, there's always a glimmer of hope that in that moment, someone could have done something and changed it all drastically. But reading this, one gets the feeling that Anne Sexton was born with a block cement tied to her feet, pulling her steadily down throughout her life.
Anarda Nashai
What can I say, I fell in love with Sexton's work at sixteen. As a young poet, she was one of the first to inspire me...with her unruly and unapologetic style. With her poetry, she left the door open to her soul, which I thought was very brave and "awe-striking". She is the queen of confessionalism...and this book of her letters tells her story better than any autobiography ever my opinion. A must-read for Sexton fans!
Emma Madden
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The more I appreciate myself, the less I have to pretend that I don't love Anne Sexton

(being a teenage girl is hard because you're not listened to or taken seriously - especially if you read Sexton and Plath. I had to pretend to love Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, even when I didn't/prematurely - just to feel like I had more of a chance of being listened to.)
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Sexton's writings were so raw and almost needy sounding, but not in a bad way. You could really get a grasp for what she may have been feeling, and the constant need for validation sort of broke my heart. It was tough to get through, but still worth the read.
Susan Katz
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
I'm not sure I'd have wanted to know Anne Sexton personally, but it was wonderful to get this personal glimpse of her private self as presented to friends, family, and colleagues. Charm and craziness co-exist here, as well as intelligence and a passion for her art.
Angela Wade
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, poetry, real-life
Really, really tough to rate this kind of book. I mean, it's someone's personal letters. I do appreciate that someone saw fit to publish them - they're insightful and help flesh out the woman/human behind the poems.
Skyelis Tyler
May 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: letters
gee. scary how much sense her madness makes to me. comforting, at the same time. one thing about her, though: this woman's a fucking machine of a writer! - and so tenderly humble.
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I registered a book at!
Adam Di Filippe
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: auto-bio, bio
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: y2013, non-fiction
The last hundred pages or so are terrible to read - it's this rapid, weird spiral downwards that is unstoppable. It's sad.
This is the edition I own. The edition I first read was a beautiful library hardcover. I think I'd like a copy like that as well. I love this book in much the same way as I love her poems.
Apr 11, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am wary of Linda Gray. Frieda Hughes is the eminently more trustable of the confessional-poet babies.
Nov 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I found this book at Rhino Records, used, for $4.99. I was so thrilled and it's at my bedside, waiting to be finished.
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Anne Sexton once told a journalist that her fans thought she got better, but actually, she just became a poet. These words are characteristic of a talented poet that received therapy for years, but committed suicide in spite of this. The poetry fed her art, but it also imprisoned her in a way.

Her parents didn’t expect much of her academically, and after completing her schooling at Rogers Hall, sh
“Anne, I don't want to live. . . . Now listen, life is lovely, but I Can't Live It. I can't even explain. I know how silly it sounds . . . but if you knew how it Felt. To be alive, yes, alive, but not be able to live it. Ay that's the rub. I am like a stone that lives . . . locked outside of all that's real. . . . Anne, do you know of such things, can you hear???? I wish, or think I wish, that I were dying of something for then I could be brave, but to be not dying, and yet . . . and yet to [be] behind a wall, watching everyone fit in where I can't, to talk behind a gray foggy wall, to live but to not reach or to reach wrong . . . to do it all wrong . . . believe me, (can you?) . . . what's wrong. I want to belong. I'm like a jew who ends up in the wrong country. I'm not a part. I'm not a member. I'm frozen.” 631 likes
“I am a collection of dismantled almosts.” 465 likes
More quotes…