Women, Writing, and Madness


I found a precedent for girls like me in the work of confessional poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. They represented a respectable compromise between “real literature” and my irrepressible tendency to let the personal creep into my writing. I related intensely to the ferocity and focus in their work, but I soon felt the hinges of a trap closing around me. To identify with Plath and Sexton was to take up the mantle of the mad female poet, madness being what they were chiefly remembered for. Hemingway’s suicide was just a footnote to his biography; Plath and Sexton’s suicides defined them. I wanted more for myself, as a person and an artist.

B.N. Harrison writes about seeing Ophelia in everything.

Lyz's writing has been published in the New York Times Motherlode, Jezebel, Aeon, Pacific Standard, and others. Her book on midwestern churches is forthcoming from Indiana University Press. She has her MFA from Lesley and skulks about on Twitter @lyzl. Lyz is a member of The Rumpus Advisory Board and a full-time staff writer for the Columbia Journalism Review. More from this author →