- Ellen McGrath SmithEllen McGrath SmithDepartment of Writing and Composition, University of Pittsburgh
Anne Sexton is one of the most charged and memorable personalities in American literature. Her image as a taboo-breaking, glamorous housewife-turned-poet has made her a cultural icon for two generations in the United States and beyond. This iconic status has led some critics to dismiss much of her work as sensationalistic, while overlooking Sexton’s incomparable flashes of imagery and insight. At the same time, that status has attracted many readers who might not have read much poetry before encountering Sexton’s bold and playful style, and thereby expanded the audience for American poetry. In between these two extremes fall readers who, for many reasons, recognize Anne Sexton as a key player in the emergence in the mid-twentieth century of a more personal and direct type of poetry, often referred to as confessional poetry, a term coined in 1959 by the critic M. L. Rosenthal in his review of Robert Lowell’s groundbreaking collection of personal poetry, Life Studies (1959).
- North American Literatures
Updated in this version
Text updated to reflect recent scholarship.