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Anne Sexton

Teacher of Weird Abundance

Paula M. Salvio, Madeleine R. Grumet

Publication Year: 2007

A Pulitzer Prize–winning poet who confessed the unrelenting anguish of addiction and depression, Anne Sexton (1928–1974) was also a dedicated teacher. In this book, Paula M. Salvio opens up Sexton’s classroom, uncovering a teacher who willfully demonstrated that the personal could also be plural. Looking at how Sexton framed and used the personal in teaching and learning, Salvio considers the extent to which our histories—both personal and social—exert their influence on teaching. In doing so, she situates the teaching life of Anne Sexton at the center of some of the key problems and questions in feminist teaching: navigating the appropriate distance between teacher and student, the relationship between writer and poetic subject, and the relationship between emotional life and knowledge. Examining Sexton’s pedagogy, with its “weird abundance” of tactics and strategies, Salvio argues that Sexton’s use of the autobiographical “I” is as much a literary identity as a literal identity, one that can speak with great force to educators who recognize its vital role in the humanities classroom.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

In the United States alone, there are more than three million public school teachers and over one million higher education faculty performing the daily work of teaching. There are plenty of books about teaching, prescriptive, ana-lytic, telling us all over and over what to do and how to do it. And yet there are just a few autobiographies and even fewer biographies of teachers that try to ...

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pp. xiii-xv

The memory of acknowledgments can never remember well enough the gifts to be recognized. It can never entirely express the gratitude and indebtedness from which any work is composed. The memory of acknowledgments provokes us to recall that the solitude of work has nothing to do with being alone. Conversation, patience, and digressions were very much a part of writing this book....

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pp. 1-16

Anne Sexton is most often remembered as a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet who, in her poetry, “confessed” the anguish of depression, addiction, and a suicidal mother’s love for her daughters. She filled the most tightly wrought of poetic forms—the lyric—with characters and plots about adultery, death, and the myths encrypted in what she referred to as the Gothic New England family ...

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1. Loss, Love, and the Work of Learning: Lessons from the Teaching Life of Anne Sexton

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pp. 17-34

Long before her death, Anne Sexton meticulously typed her manuscripts and kept carbon copies of her letters. “She was,” observes her biographer, Diane Wood Middlebrook, “a self-documenting person: from childhood on she kept scrapbooks of treasured moments; from the earliest months of what was to become her professional life she . . . dated worksheets of poems . . . she saved...

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2. Teacher of “Weird Abundance: ”A Portrait of the Pedagogical Tactics of Anne Sexton

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pp. 35-50

Sexton is most often remembered as a “confessional” writer who, as Barbara Kevles wrote in 1976 (two years after Sexton’s suicide), “jimmied open the family album to expose her suicide notes, filial guilt, madness, and longing for death. She would say the socially unacceptable things about herself that I never would” (1972, 47). Sexton had a knack for using commonplace minutiae such as ...

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3. Something Worth Learning: A Reading of the Student-Teacher Relationship Between Anne Sexton and John Holmes

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pp. 51-80

On Monday, January 30, 1961, Anne Sexton sent a letter to John Holmes. Her letter was a response to accusations Holmes made that she had acted selfishly and without sensitivity at a poetry workshop a few weeks earlier. Most hurtful, however, was the anger he expressed at Sexton for making a spectacle of herself— not only during...

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4. “. . . [I] Bend Down My Strange Face to Yours, And Forgive You” A Study of Anne Sexton’s Pedagogy of Reparation

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pp. 81-102

Sunday, October 6, 1974. Anne Sexton has been dead for two days. She is remembered in the New York Times as “a disciple of Robert Lowell . . . a confessional poet who fashioned art out of anguish. . . . A forty-seven year old woman . . . recently divorced from her husband, found dead in an idling car from a...

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5. Picturing the Racial Innocence of Anne Sexton’s Pedagogy

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pp. 103-118

The lessons extended throughout the narratives documenting Sexton’s teaching at Wayland High School during the 1967 to 1968 academic year continue to raise questions about academic taste: what it means to establish and sustain the proper distance between a student and teacher, and what pedagogical methods we use to engage in the evasion of history, and to sustain self-deception. Anne...

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pp. 119-122

Anne Sexton believed in the curative properties of writing; she believed that writing saved her life. Sexton felt that writing jarred her into a conscious awareness of her complicity in living out and suffering through the plot of the post–World War II American dream. Her history is imbued with unspeakable intrusions and pain—incest, suicidal despair, and instances of passively...


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pp. 123-129


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pp. 131-139


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pp. 141-151

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480083
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791470978
Print-ISBN-10: 0791470970

Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 8 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 140310607
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Anne Sexton

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Education -- Social aspects.
  • Sexton, Anne, 1928-1974.
  • Poets, American -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Women educators -- United States -- Biography.
  • Education -- Philosophy.
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