In Meg Wolitzer’s new YA novel Belzhar, a group of teenagers packed off to an idyllic boarding school learn that they have the ability to undo their most serious traumas. Their discovery is sparked by a writing assignment in a class on Sylvia Plath. At Slate, Jennifer Ray Morell connects Wolitzer’s novel to Plath’s classic The Bell Jar. Related: our own Hannah Gersen’s interview with biographer Elizabeth Winder.
Boston has announced the country’s first “Literary Culture District,” marked by memorials to Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath. It also includes some arguably less interesting sites – the buildings that used to house The Atlantic Monthly and Little, Brown and Company, for example. Caroline O’Donovan writes critically about the new district for The Baffler and concludes that “we’ve allowed glib cultural ideals to occlude economic realities, and tourism tax dollars to triumph over a candid conversation about the origins of art and the sustainability of its production.”
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings has been a Millions favorite, so we’re excited to hear about her next book, Belzhar, a young adult novel inspired by Sylvia Plath. The book comes out on September 30 and follows a 16-year-old grieving at a boarding school for fragile teenagers, where she and her classmates discover an alternate world. Wolitzer spoke to NPR about why she was drawn to YA. “Much of what adolescents feel seems set in relief, and much of what they experience is happening to them for the first time.”
The whole Sylvia Plath life story has been approached in a reductionist way. I wanted to do something different. Because when I read her journals I see someone who’s so lively, so hungry for life, and really engaged in the world in a relatable way.
In fact, I think Plath has turned out to be a much better poet than Hughes ever was. Of course he won all the prizes, and his name is on the stones in Poet’s Corner and OK, he’s pretty good, but not that good, whereas she gets better and better.
“Then the worst happened, that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me, who had been hunching around over women, and whose name I had asked the minute i had come into the room, but no one told me, came over and was looking hard into my eyes and it was Ted Hughes…I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hairband off, my lovely red hairband scarf which has weathered the sun and much love, and whose like I shall never again find, and my favorite silver earrings: hah, I shall keep, he barked. And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face. His poem ‘I did it, I.’ Such violence, and I can see how women lie down for artists.” The night Sylvia Plath met her husband, she wrote this entry in her diary.
Presenting a Literary Lovefest
Friends of The Millions! Today is Valentine’s Day, and that means it’s time for your humble editors to show you how much we love… well… love. And because most (or all) of us are naturalized citizens of Bookland, we figured the best way to do that is to show you our favorite love letters. Think F. Scott Fitzgerald, Abelard, James Joyce and Sylvia Plath. Think wild yearnings, unrestrained lust and a slight, slight hint of the kinky. Think, in other words, of amazing writers in love.
To that end, we’ll be posting excerpts throughout the day right here on our lovesick Tumblr. If you’re looking to join in, post an excerpt of a letter we left out and tag it #Love of The Millions. We’ll post it ourselves if we like it. Why? Because we love you, of course.
The literature of Massachusetts seems to reflect this fear. It is a literature of insanity, of extreme emotion; “Boston!” the teenage lunatics of Susannah Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted cry, in between bouts of failed suicide attempts, “Boston! You could jump out at a red light and split.” In the old Ritz-Carlton, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath used to meet after poetry workshops to down martinis and discuss their respective death wishes. And the Old Corner Bookstore? — Built in 1712, the building itself was erected to replace the ruins of Anne Hutchinson’s home, that Puritan woman cast out of Boston for talking to God.