Get Your Premium Membership

Anne Sexton Biography | Poet

Photo of Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton, born Anne Gray Harvey, was an American poet. She was born on November 9th, 1928, in Newton, Massachusetts, and died on October 4th, Weston, Massachusetts, at the age of 45. She was known for being a confessional poet, in which she wrote primarily about her struggles with depression, suicidal tendencies and mania. She had won a Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry called, Live Or Die, in 1967. At seventeen, Sexton started writing poetry while attending Rogers Hall, a preparatory school for girls, and had written several poetry collections during the remainder of her life.

Major Achievements

In 1958, Sexton's poetic works started receiving recognition. She was awarded the Audience Poetry Prize in 1959. In 1960, she published her first book of poems called, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, and this motivated her to continue writing poems after her written works earned her national recognition. In 1965, Anne Sexton was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London, which was a tremendous achievement for a writer. She was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for her acclaimed collection of poems called, Live or Die, and in the same year, she went on to receive the Shelley Memorial Prize. In June 1968, she became the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.


In 1945, when Sexton was seventeen, she was sent to the Rogers Hall, a preparatory school for girls, in Lowell to become a proper young lady. After graduation, she attended the Garland School in Boston, a finishing school for women. In 1948, when she was nineteen and still at Garland School, she met and eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II. They both moved to Hamilton, New York, where her husband was attending Colgate University, but were forced to move back to Massachusetts. In August of 1957, Sexton received a scholarship and attended Antioch Writers' Conference. In 1958, she enrolled at Boston University to attend Robert Lowell's graduate writing seminar.

Family and Life

Anne Gray Harvey married Alfred Sexton II on August 16, 1948. They had two daughters, Linda Gray in 1953, and Joyce Ladd in 1955. After publishing her first book, she had plummeted into emotional turmoil when her parents suddenly died. Her emotional and mental state further degraded as her marriage continually became abusive because of the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband. In 1973, she filed for divorce from him, which was followed by alcoholism and drug abuse that was brought on by deep depression and loneliness that she would endure for the remainder of her life. The state of her health became extremely poor and would worsen significantly in her last years as her personal life also deteriorated. Most of her friends had alienated her and her daughters avoided her because they could not deal with her, and she couldn't deal with them. After a collection of religious poems were not well received, her professional life started going through some really difficult times. Her professional life hit rock bottom when she decided to collaborate with a rock group, and that caused her mental state to become even more fragile than it already was. On October 4, 1974, after having lunch with longtime friend, Maxine Kumin, Sexton committed suicide by way of carbon monoxide poisoning. Sexton was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery & Crematory in Boston, Massachusetts.

Work Facts

As a poet, Sexton was influenced by fellow poets Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and W.D. Snograss. She frequently wrote about her experiences as a woman, which included controversial topics (at the time), such as: menstruation, abortion and drug addiction. She had written many famous books such as: To Bedlam and Part Way Back, The Starry Night, All My Pretty Ones, Love or Die, Love Poems, Transformations, The Book of Folly, and The Death Notebooks. A few works of Sexton were published posthumously, and they include: The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975), 45 Mercy Street (1976), Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters (1977), Words for Dr. Y (1978), and No Evil Star: Selected Essays, Interviews and Prose (1985). Sexton also wrote children's books with long time friend, Maxine Kumin, and they include: Eggs Of Things, More Eggs Of Things, Joey And The Birthday Present, and The Wizard's Tears. Aside from writing poetry, she also taught the art of writing poetry. She began teaching a poetry seminar in Boston University, which was followed by being a regular lecturer at Boston University.


Anne Sexton was celebrated as influential and famous for her personal confessional poetry, using her knowledge of the human condition, especially her own, that were sometimes painful or sometimes joyous. She wrote emotional poems about childhood guilt, motherhood, mental illness, and female sexuality. Even though it would seem that Sexton's poems were autobiographical, it is also contended that Sexton's poems weren't as autobiographical as many think, because her poems are just that, poems, and not memoirs. Recurrent symbolic themes and techniques are used which makes her works impressive and sets them apart from other poetic works. She earned a reputation for using incisive metaphors and unexpected rhythm verses. She is also noted for her courage in writing about forbidden subjects. 

Anne Sexton: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes

Book: Reflection on the Important Things