Letters of Sylvia Plath: 1940 - 1956

Part of London Literature Festival

Hear a selection of newly published letters by one of the defining poets of the 20th century, Sylvia Plath, in this live reading and discussion. With letters specially selected by acclaimed poet and writer Lavinia Greenlaw and featuring award-winning authors Eimear McBride, Max Porter, Sarah Howe and special guest Frieda Hughes, read by Lydia Wilson.

Ranging from the personal to the literary, Plath’s letters – most of which have never been seen before – offer insights into the genesis of an extraordinary writer, and the details of a life that helped to shape an iconic sensibility.

Refreshingly candid about her personal life, and written with inimitable wit and verve, these early letters from the first volume of her collected correspondence range from key moments in Plath’s adolescence; her successful but turbulent undergraduate years at Smith College; the move to England and Cambridge University; and her meeting and marrying Ted Hughes, including unseen letters post-honeymoon, revealing their extraordinary creative partnership.

Curated in collaboration with Lavinia Greenlaw, leading authors Eimear McBride, Max Porter and Sarah Howe respond and reflect on what these letters tell us about Plath and becoming a writer.

Lavinia Greenlaw has published five collections of poetry with Faber & Faber including Minsk (2003), which was shortlisted for the TS Eliot, Forward and Whitbread Poetry Prizes, The Casual Perfect (2011), and A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde? (2014), shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. Her sound work, Audio Obscura, won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. In 2016, she wrote and directed her first film, The Sea is an Edge and an Ending, which premiered at the Estuary Festival and has been shown at Southbank Centre and as part of Hull’s City of Culture programme among other places.

Eimear McBride's debut novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing took nine years to publish and subsequently received the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, the Goldsmiths Prize, Desmond Elliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her second novel The Lesser Bohemians won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for numerous other prizes. Her short fiction has appeared in Dubliners 100, The Long Gaze Back and on Radio 4. She occasionally reviews for The Guardian, TLS, New Statesman and New York Times Book Review.

Sarah Howe is a British poet, academic and editor. Her first book, Loop of Jade (Chatto & Windus, 2015), won the TS Eliot Prize and The Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her pamphlet, A Certain Chinese Encyclopedia (Tall-lighthouse, 2009), won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. She is a Lecturer in Poetry at King’s College London.

Max Porter is Editorial Director of Granta and Portobello Books. His debut novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers was published in 2015 by Faber and was translated into 23 languages. It won the International Dylan Thomas Prize.

Frieda Hughes was born in London in 1960, grew up in Devon, and after living in various parts of England and Australia now lives on the Welsh Borders. She wrote and painted from an early age, and for many years has been a painter and children’s writer. She received a NESTA Award in 2002 to help her work on Forty-five, her portrait of her life in 45 poems and paintings, the poems from which were published by HarperCollins in the US in 2006. Her most recent work, Alternative Values: poems & paintings, was launched by Bloodaxe in 2015 at an exhibition of the paintings at London's October Gallery. Out of the Ashes: Selected Poems, due out in May 2018, draws on her four previous poetry collections from Bloodaxe: Wooroloo (1999), Stonepicker (2001), Waxworks (2002) and The Book of Mirrors (2009).

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Royal Festival Hall


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