Oct. 27, 1999


by Sylvia Plath

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: October 27, 1999

Poem: "Child" by Sylvia Plath from The Collected Poems published by Harper & Row.

It's the birthday of humorist Fran Lebowitz, born in Morristown, New Jersey (1950). She was 7 when she decided to be a writer—and wrote her first novel, a Nancy Drew-type adventure story, while in elementary school. After 3 years of high school she was sent to boarding school but was expelled 3 months later. Eventually she earned a high school equivalency degree, but never went to college. ("I don't see any value in going to college unless you want to be a scholar, or need specific training, or want to be prepared in case you get called to go on the David Susskind Show."). A book editor showed interest in publishing a collection of her pieces; she submitted her manuscript a year late; it was published as Metropolitan Life (1978) and was a huge instant success.

It's the birthday of poet Sylvia Plath, born in Boston (1932). She entered and won many literary contests, and went to Smith College on a scholarship. But her undergraduate years were disrupted by a nervous breakdown and an attempted suicide, followed by hospitalization and electro-shock treatments—all described in her novel The Bell Jar (1963). She met and married English poet Ted Hughes (1956). But by the winter of 1962-63, her life had fallen apart. Hughes had left her for another woman; her two babies were ill; her London flat was so poorly heated the pipes froze; she suffered extreme bouts of depression; and then, in January, The Bell Jar came out to lukewarm reviews. A few weeks later she sealed off her children's room, went to the kitchen stove and gassed herself. She was 30, and hardly known to the world. Hughes edited and promoted her poetry volumes Ariel (1965), Crossing the Water (1971), and Collected Poems (1981—Pulitzer Prize, 1982).

It's the birthday of poet Dylan (Marlais) Thomas, born in Swansea, Wales (1914). From an early age he smoked heavily, drank heavily, and assumed he would die young—which he did, at 39. He published his first book, 18 Poems, when he was 20; later he wrote plays, short stories, and film scripts. Many are more familiar with his prose reminiscence, A Child's Christmas in Wales, than with any of his poems. Thomas recorded it for an American college girl who was downcast when he arrived for the recording session so drunk he could barely stand up. But once her tape recorder was turned on, he read clearly and beautifully straight through his story. It begins: "One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."

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