Poets’ Lives in Letters

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Anne Sexton sitting in front of a bookcase

Writer’s letters are compiled to give readers a glimpse into the personal lives of their favorite authors. The letters can range from outlines of day-to-day minutia to personal confessions to critiques sent to other familiar literary voices. Letters often give an unfiltered view into the mind of writers that readers would not otherwise have access to.

The below collections of letters are from poets and all were published after each poet’s death: Sexton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning while wearing her mother’s old fur coat at age 46 in 1974; Hughes had prostate cancer and suffered from a related fatal surgical complication at age 65 in 1967; and Eliot died at home from emphysema at age 76 in 1965. The letters add to the poets’ legacies and literary canons.

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Linda G. Sexton
Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters
Arresting glimpse of a gifted, death-obsessed poet who, after a number of suicide attempts finally succeeded in taking her own life in 1974. She was recipient of many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for her intensely personal poems. Some strong language. 1977.

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Langston Hughes
The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes
Collection of letters written by poet and novelist Hughes (1902-1967) between 1921 and his death. Includes letters to his family, luminaries of art and literature including Carl Van Vechten, his long-time editor Blanche Knopf, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, and more. Commentary from editors expands on references. Some strong language. 2015.

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T.S. Eliot
The Letters of T.S. Eliot: Volume 1, 1898-1922
These letters, edited by Eliot’s second wife, come on the centenary of the poet’s birth. They open with a bit of juvenilia and follow Eliot as he studies in Paris and Oxford. His literary opinions are mush in evidence in letters to and about Ezra Pound, Bertrand Russell, Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, and Hugh Walpole, among others. 1988.