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May Sarton (May 3, 1912 – July 16, 1995) was an American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Born in Belgium (originally named Eleanore Marie Sarton), her family moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1915 after briefly living in England. Her mother was the English artist Mable Elwes Sarton, and her father, the science historian George Sarton.
Sarton began writing poetry when she was in her teens. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City with notions of becoming an actress. She joined the New York’s Civic Repertory Theater, and even tried her hand at starting and running one, launching Associated Actor’s Theater in 1933. Soon, her desire to write surpassed theatrical ambitions, and she focused on writing once the theater closed.
Early works of poetry and fiction
Encounter in April, Sarton’s first published poetry collection (1937), contained vivid erotic female imagery. Her first novel, The Single Hound was published soon after, in 1938. In 1945, Sarton met Judy Matlack in Santa Fe. Their 13-year relationship was reflected upon on in a later work, Honey in the Hive (1988). It was through Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965), a short novel, that she came to terms with her own sexuality.
Sarton’s journals and memoirs
Sarton’s journals, particularly Plant Dreaming Deep and Journal of a Solitude, are considered among her best works. They dealt honestly with isolation, solitude, love, relationships, sexual orientation, success and failure, gratitude, love of nature, the seasons, and the struggles of a creative life. She deals with aging and illness in her memoirs Recovering, At Seventy, At Eighty Two, and After the Stroke.
Now I Become Myself is one of Sarton’s most beloved poems
Teaching and being taught
Ms. Sarton taught at both Harvard and Wellesley; her books have been taught in college courses throughout the country. In 1990, while living in Maine, Sarton suffered a stroke that made concentrating and writing very challenging. She dictated her remaining journals, and gained some comfort in being able to reflect on her life.
Her books have become standards in Women’s Studies classes, though she preferred that her work be appreciated for their exploration of what is universal in love, rather than as lesbian literature.
Death and legacy
May Sarton died of breast cancer on July 16, 1995, at the age of 83. She said of her work: “It is my hope that all the novels, the poems, and the autobiographical books may come to be seen as a whole, the communication of a vision of life.”
More about May Sarton on this site
Below is a modest sampling of May Sarton’s novels. In addition to the list of memoirs that follow, for which she is arguably even better know, Sarton was also a prolific poet. Her poetry is collected is nearly twenty volumes.
- The Single Hound (1938)
- A Shower of Summer Days (1952)
- The Fur Person (1957)
- The Small Room (1961)
- Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
- As We Are Now (1973)
- Crucial Conversations (1975)
- A Reckoning (1978)
- Anger (1982)
- The Magnificent Spinster (1985)
- The Education of Harriet Hatfield (1989)
Memoirs and journals
- Plant Dreaming Deep (1968)
- Journal of a Solitude (1978)
- The House by the Sea: A Journal (1977)
- Recovering: A Journal (1980)
- At Seventy: A Journal (1984)
- Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992)
- Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year (1993)
- At Eighty-Two: A Journal (1996)
- I Knew a Phoenix: Sketches for an Autobiography (1959)
- After the Stroke: A Journal (1988)
Biographies about May Sarton
- The Poetry Foundation
- May Sarton: Poetry.com
- Reader discussion of May Sarton’s books on Goodreads
Articles, News, Etc.
- May Sarton’s Grave – Nelson Cemetery, New Hampshire
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