Sylvia Plath was born on October 27th, 1932 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
Her father, Otto Plath, emigrated from Germany to the United States and became a biology professor at Boston University, specializing in the study of bees. Her mother, Aurelia Plath, taught German and English to high school students. Warren Plath was Sylvia’s younger brother. The family lived in Winthrop, near Boston.
She had a comfortable childhood until her father died from complications due to undiagnosed diabetes, when she was eight years old – a loss that she would always feel. (Aurelia Plath died decades later, in 1987.)
Sylvia excelled in school. She was first published when a short couplet that she wrote – at the age of eight – was published in the Boston Sunday Herald. She sent her work to magazines for publication, and edited her school newspaper.
In her teenaged years, she continually strived to get her poetry printed in major magazines and newspapers. Finally, after forty-five rejections, Seventeen published one of Sylvia’s short stories “And Summer Will Not Come Again”. The magazine would publish her work again, and she was also soon published in The Christian Science Monitor, Mademoiselle and Harper’s, among other periodicals.
A member of the National Honor Society, Sylvia attended Smith College (in Northampton, Massachusetts) on scholarship. During the summer of her third year at Smith 1953, she was invited to be a guest editor for an issue of Mademoiselle. She would later dramatize her experiences in New York City during that time in her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar.
When she returned home, she learned that she had not been accepted to a fiction-writing course at Harvard. Shortly afterwards, on August 24th, 1953, Sylvia tried to take her own life; after leaving a note saying that she had gone for a walk, she crawled under the house and swallowed an enormous dose of sleeping pills. After three days, she was discovered and rushed to McLean hospital. After treatments with intense psychotherapy and electroshock therapy, she returned to Smith for the second semester. She graduated summa cum laude in June 1955.
In October 1955, on a Fulbright Scholarship, Sylvia went abroad to Newnham College, Cambridge. She met Ted Hughes at a party on February 26th, 1956. They married on June 16th, 1956.
After she concluded her studies in the spring of 1957, Sylvia was offered a post at Smith College, which she accepted, returning to America with Ted. Prior to her starting work at Smith, Aurelia Plath gifted the couple with a holiday in Cape Cod, where they could spend the summer writing.
Excited at the prospect of teaching, Sylvia found the reality of it exhausting – with little time to pursue her writing. After one year of teaching, she did not return to the job. Instead, she worked as a receptionist in the psychiatric clinic of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Secretly, she began to see therapist Ruth Boucher from McLean (where she had been hospitalized in 1953). She also attended an evening poetry class under the tutelage of Robert Lowell – who became an influence on her own poetry, which she was able to continue.
In December 1959, the couple returned to England and set up house in Primrose Hill. Sylvia was already pregnant, and gave birth to Frieda Rebecca Hughes on April 1st, 1960. Her book of poetry The Colossus was published in October 1960. She had also begun writing The Bell Jar, and was pregnant again, but in February 1961 she miscarried.
The following summer, the Hughes family moved to Court Green in North Tawton, Devon. Sylvia and Ted’s son, Nicholas Hughes, was born on January 17th, 1962.
In July 1962, Sylvia discovered that Ted was having an affair with Assia Wevill, and the Hugheses separated that September. Over the following month, Sylvia wrote at least 26 of the Ariel poems.
In December, Sylvia took the children with her to London and moved to 23 Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, where the poet William Butler Yeats had once lived. The weather in the U.K. that winter was the coldest in over a century. On February 11th, 1963, Sylvia committed suicide, dying by carbon monoxide poisoning from her gas oven. She was 30 years old.
The Bell Jar was first published in January 1963, not long before her death (and at that time under a pseudonym), but was not published in the U.S. until February 1971. Its most notable quality is an astonishing immediacy… -- Time Magazine
Ariel, the collection of poems that included much of her work from the fall of 1962, was published in 1965.
In 1982, two decades after her death, Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for the posthumously published Collected Poems.