of Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton, The
Poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton:
A Biography, and, forthcoming, a book on Ted Hughes and
Sylvia Plath and a biography of Ovid.
Early in the morning. Six cups of coffee. Read an essay, some beautiful piece of writing for inspiration. Sit down and get to work. And stay there until you have something worth revising!
Diane Middlebrook loves writing, and she radiates an almost giddy energy, determination, and joy about for writing (and living) throughout our conversation. She can admit that “I find writing a miserable job” when she gets stuck, but at the same time she can get completely absorbed: “When I get inside the book I lose all my bearings.”
Prof. Middlebrook explains her great pleasure in writing biographies, in particular, referring to her previous work on Anne Sexton and Billy Tipton, as well as her work-in-progress on Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and Ovid. She demonstrates how she employs different notebooks for different tasks in the complex task of doing biographical research. She explains her highly developed techniques for doing research, her multiple notebooks for keeping track of sources and quotes and her own activities for this particular genre – concrete tips for the working writer. The practical business of research gives her particular pleasure: the feel of a particular kind of three-ring binder in the hand, the joy of discovering a form of narrative organized around objects, the delights of revelation, work, revision, and the thrill of entering the subjectivity of the person she seeks to know.
“With a biography there is no straight line,” she explains, “all is muddled. You don’t know what you know, you don’t know what you don’t know; if you find anything you make a note about it because some day it may find its partner. You have to have very good ways of keeping track of what you have found and where you have put it.”
Diane Middlebrook shows us how there is “no straight line” in any kind of writing. In this conversation, she “keeps track” of the wonders she has found, and with great verve shares them with us. Writing to her can be “miserable,” a tough set of difficulties, at times – but her overall enthusiasm and pragmatism shine through everything she speaks about. By the end of our talk I felt like jumping up and writing a book – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one!
Tuesday, October 15, 2002, 7 p.m.
Stanford Writing Center, Basement of Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg. 460)