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Is it OK to use the words "festive" and "Sylvia Plath," the author of The Bell Jar, which chronicles a young woman's mental illness, in the same sentence? Absolutely, say the poets and artists who will gather at West Chester University to commemorate Plath's birthday on Sunday, Oct. 27. The event, which begins at 2 p.m., is a celebration of the poet's life in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of her death.
"We have had a lot of interest in this event," notes Kim Bridgford, director of the University's Poetry Center and the West Chester University Poetry Conference. "We are holding the party on her birthday - and even at the actual time of her birth. We will have a cake to cut at the end of the event."
In addition to Bridgford, six other notable women poets, scholars and artists will read: Holly Trostle Brigham, Anna Evans, Jessica McCort, Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, Jane Satterfield and Jo Yarrington. (See below for brief biographies of the speakers.)
Of special note: Brigham and Yarrington are creating original artworks for the event.
The speakers are reading from Plath's works, their own poetry or scholarship, or offering their personal reflections on what Plath has meant to them, explains Bridgford. "The focus will be on celebration. ... Plath's life and work are a testament to what it is possible to accomplish at any age."
Plath was only 30 when she took her life on Feb. 11, 1963. She is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel, and for her semiautobiographical novel The Bell Jar. In 1982, she won a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for The Collected Poems.
"Plath was born the same year as my father, who turned 81 this year," Bridgford notes. "However, Plath will always be 30. What could have happened in the next 50 years?
"Plath was a role model for women not because of her own particular set of struggles, but because of her ability to face and work through those struggles, transcending gender stereotypes. … It is a loss when we imagine what she might have done next, but it is a gift when we appreciate what she did accomplish. In that way, she reminds us not to wait, but to reach for our dreams now."
Sylvia Plath Birthday Party Featured Speakers
Oct. 27, 2013
For more detailed biographies, click here.
Bridgford is also editor of Mezzo Cammin and founder of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. Her collaborative work with visual artist Jo Yarrington has been honored with a Ucross fellowship. She has authored seven books of poetry, including Bully Pulpit (poems on bullying) and Epiphanies (religious poems).
Holly Trostle Brigham
Brigham is a Philadelphia painter who creates life-size figures in watercolor depicting historical and mythological women in elaborate settings. Brigham is collaborating with award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson on a series of paintings and prayers for a group of nuns.
Anna M. Evans
Evans teaches at West Windsor (N.J.) Art Center and Richard Stockton College and is editor of the Raintown Review and managing editor of Barefoot Muse Press. Nine times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, McCort has participated in the residency program of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and received numerous awards and fellowships.
McCort is an instructor in the English department at Duquesne University. Her published work on Sylvia Plath examines the author's juvenilia and her interest in the girlhood consciousness. She also runs the literary blog The Owl's Skull, devoted to the infiltration of popular children's books by the weird and terrifying.
Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
O'Donnell teaches English and creative writing at Fordham University and is associate director of Fordham's Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. Her publications include three collections of poems, Saint Sinatra, Moving House and a book of elegies entitled Waking My Mother, and two chapbooks, Mine and Waiting for Ecstasy.
Satterfield is the literary editor for the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative and teaches at Loyola University (Md.). Her most recent book is Her Familiars (2013, Elixir Press). She authored two previous books of poems: Assignation at Vanishing Point, and Shepherdess with an Automatic, as well as Daughters of Empire: A Memoir of a Year in Britain and Beyond.
Yarrington is a professor of studio art at Fairfield University (Conn.). Her drawings, photographs and architecturally based installations in combinations of glass, waxed paper, and transparent photographs have been shown at numerous U.S. and international galleries, museums and sculpture parks. She was a panelist at the 2011 West Chester Poetry Conference.