Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953by Elizabeth Winder
"I dreamed of New York, I am going there."
On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived/em>/p>/em>
"I dreamed of New York, I am going there."
On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.
Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—shows how Manhattan's alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.
Thoughtful and illuminating, this captivating portrait invites us to see Sylvia Plath before The Bell Jar, before she became an icon—a young woman with everything to live for.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author
Elizabeth Winder is the author of a poetry collection. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Review, Antioch Review, American Letters, and other publications. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.
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Pain, Par­ties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Sum­mer 1953 by Eliz­a­beth Winder is a non-fiction book about time men­tioned in the title. The book paints a por­trait of Ms. Plath dur­ing a stress­ful, event­ful and per­sonal emo­tional sum­mer of her life. Twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrives in New York City with 20 other col­lege aged women to work as guest edi­tors for Mademoiselle's col­lege issue. This is a pres­ti­gious posi­tion which, they hope, will get them ready for life in the big city and even big­ger world. The ladies live at the Bar­bi­zon Hotel, attend shows, bal­lets, pro­fes­sional sports and par­tic­i­pate in glam­orous events. Pain, Par­ties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Sum­mer 1953 by Eliz­a­beth Winder is the kind of book which seems to be gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity, a short non-fiction book about a spec­i­fied time-frame of a per­son. These books seem to replace the all encom­pass­ing biographies. At this day and age where a some­what descent, encom­pass­ing biog­ra­phy on almost every impor­tant, not-so-important and, let's face(book) it, not-important-at-all peo­ple is at one's fin­ger­tips 24/7 these type of short bio­graph­i­cal por­traits are flour­ish­ing. I can cer­tainly under­stand why, when I ran a restric­tive search for "Sylvia Plath biog­ra­phy" on Google I got 6,430 results (417,000 results came back with just a sim­ple search). With that much infor­ma­tion at hand a book which high­lights a cer­tain period does, espe­cially if one is inter­ested only in that spe­cific sub­ject, sounds enticing. There seems to be a lot of infor­ma­tion about Sylvia Plath this year which marks the 50th anniver­sary of her untimely death. To be hon­est, this is the first book I read about, or by, Ms. Plath. I have heard of her before, but her work never sparked my inter­est. There was some­thing in the descrip­tion of this book though, that did sound inter­est­ing, maybe the locale (NYC), the time period (1950s), or the sub­ject. But what prob­a­bly made me pick up this book is a vari­ety of rea­sons, a com­bi­na­tion of the ones men­tioned pre­vi­ously plus oth­ers which I can­not put my fin­ger on at the moment. When I received the book I thought I had made a mis­take just by look­ing at the cover. A pic­ture in which the color pink (or some vari­a­tion of it) is pre­dom­i­nant, a woman wear­ing a fancy ruf­fle dress, long Cin­derella gloves, jew­elry on her arms, a pearl neck­lace, dia­mond ear­rings and a fancy hairdo sit­ting face for­ward on a chair/couch which seems to be made for the sole pur­pose of act­ing out a most dra­matic and pas­sion­ate faint­ing. Not too attrac­tive for some­one who loves to read about World War II, espi­onage and other "manly" books. Once I started read­ing the book all my trep­i­da­tions went away, this a remark­able story of an amaz­ing woman liv­ing out an extra­or­di­nary adven­ture. Ms. Winder did an amaz­ing job research­ing, includ­ing talk­ing with first hand sources (other guest-editors) whose rec­ol­lec­tions of Ms. Plath are vivid and enchant­ing. The depressed image I had have of Sylvia Plath is con­tra­dic­tory to the image the author paints, that of flam­ing red lip­stick, posh clothes and high heels. The book does a great job describ­ing the pro­fes­sional envi­ron­ment of 1950s New York City as well as mak­ing the month long adven­ture come to life. The asser­tion that the gig of "guest edi­tor" was a defin­ing event in Plant's life seems to have much merit and essen­tial to under­stand­ing her char­ac­ter and writing.