Thursday, April 11, 2013

Carl Rollyson

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His latest books are Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews published in September 2012, and the biography American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, released in January 2013.

From the author's Q & A with Gerald J. Russello for the University Bookman:

There have been several biographies of Plath already. Why select her for a new one?

One reason for a new biography is that there has not been a biography of Plath in twenty years. Since then a number of new materials have become available, and mine is the first to make use of the new material.

For example, I had access to her husband Ted and his sister Olwyn Hughes’s papers in the British Library, which others did not. Ted kept diary notes of the last week of Sylvia’s life, which enabled me to document the days before her suicide. I could get into some of his own feelings, because after the fact he made all sorts of statements about their getting together again had she not killed herself. But Sylvia herself had written that off as a possibility, which I learned in the papers of Al Alvarez, a close friend of hers.

Olwyn had tried to establish Sylvia’s romantic interest in Alvarez, which was not something he had ever acknowledged quite so explicitly in his own writings or to other biographers. But what I concluded from my long interview with him was that in a sense he was continuing to protect her, even after her death. He finally said “she was in love with me.” It occurred to me that was an awkward position for him to be in, and he acted very chivalrously. Not only that, but here was someone who saw her brilliance but was being very careful.

Another new source was the research I was able to do into Sylvia’s time at Smith College. Aurelia Plath, her mother, donated a lot of material to Smith, including letters between her and Sylvia, and my book has a much bigger picture of her mother than earlier studies because of this material. Sylvia portrayed her mother as possessive or difficult, but when I read Aurelia’s letters at Smith and talked to her close friend, Richard Larschen, Aurelia became much more of a person to me. These materials reveal that she was happy that Sylvia went to Smith and got a Fulbright. Aurelia also wrote letters to Ted (they are in his papers at Emory University) saying that many times she wanted to...[read on]
View the video trailer for American Isis, and learn more about the book and author at Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: American Isis.

My Book, The Movie: American Isis.

--Marshal Zeringue