Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab announced today that in honor of Women’s History Month, feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan will speak during the college’s daylong “Sylvia Plath Symposium” on March 30 at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.
Steinem and Morgan will reflect on the poet and author at the conference’s evening session, at which award-winning actress Kathleen Chalfant (“Wit,” “Angels in America”) will read from Plath’s poetry. In preceding sessions, a stellar roster of poets and scholars will explore Plath’s creative output and meaning for the feminist movement.
“It is a special privilege for Hunter College to host this extraordinary gathering of poets and activists to revisit and reinterpret the work of an inspiring and influential writer,” said President Raab. “Empowering young women has always been Hunter’s mission, and the college has produced some of the nation’s most celebrated female writers and activists — from Audre Lorde to Pauli Murray to Sonia Sanchez — making it a natural home for a gathering of this magnitude.”
Founded in 1870 by the visionary educator Thomas Hunter, Hunter College was a free, all-women public college training teachers. It was only the ninth school of higher education in the nation to accept female applicants. From its inception, Hunter College welcomed women of all races, religions, and backgrounds, and it has produced a long line of accomplished women — including scholars, educators, scientists, entrepreneurs, elected officials, artists, actors, and more.
Sylvia Plath is one of the essential authors of 20th-century American literature. The Bell Jar, her novel, is a coming-of-age classic; Ariel, her final collection of poems, is considered a masterwork; her Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. As eminent a writer as she is, her impact exceeds the literary world. Following her suicide in 1963, her work, championed by Ms. Morgan and Ms. Steinem (who was awarded an honorary degree by Hunter in 2006), became a touchstone in the women’s movement because of its unflinching female voice and its willingness to challenge patriarchal issues. Their interpretation helped expand Plath’s importance until she has become a cultural icon who continues to influence artists as diverse as Sharon Olds and Lana Del Rey.
The year 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Plath’s death and the 90th anniversary of her birth. The symposium, conceived and produced by Plath biographer and Hunter Professor Paul Alexander, and sponsored by President Raab, will bring together an array of acclaimed authors and scholars to celebrate Plath’s life and work.
Topics to be covered will include an assessment of the importance of Plath’s work, forthcoming books by or about her, and the role her work played in modern feminism. All sessions are free and open to the public. For RSVP information, consult the Roosevelt House website after March 10.
Panelists appearing in three sessions during the day on March 30 include author Susan Cheever; Plath biographer Heather Clark; poet Mark Doty; Plath authority Amanda Golden; Hunter Professors Richard Kaye and Donna Masini; poet Honor Moore; poet Vijay Seshadri, Plath expert Peter K. Steinberg; and poet Eva Salzman.
Session 1: “The Work” (9:30 am – 11 am) will feature Golden, Steinberg, and Seshadri; Session 2: “Influences on Plath” (11:30 AM – 1 pm) will feature Cheever, Clark, and Kaye; and Session 3: “Poets on Plath” (2:30 pm – 4:30 pm) will feature Doty, Masini, Moore, and Salzman. The Keynote Event (6 pm) will begin with a reading of Plath poems by Ms. Chalfant followed by “A Conversation with Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem.”