|Hughes, the son of a carpenter in a Yorkshire mill town, began writing poems in grammar school. Working part-time, he studied at Cambridge, where he met the American poet, Sylvia Plath, whom he married in 1956. His first book, "Hawk in the Rain"--poems largely about the world of nature in which he grew up--was published in 1957 to wide acclaim. Hughes left Plath for another woman in 1961, and after Plath killed herself two years later Hughes raised their two children. In 1969, the woman he lived with also killed herself, and their child as well. Hughes subsequently remarried, in 1970, after which he became increasingly reclusive. For many years, although he was vilified by feminists for his what was seen as his brutal treatment of Plath, he refused to discuss their relationship. However, in 1997, knowing he was terminally ill, he published "The Birthday Letters", his own uncharacteristically intimate and revelatory verse account of their life together. During his lifetime, Hughes published more than 35 poems and collections of verse, three works of prose, two opera librettos, and four plays. He also wrote a number of highly successful children's books and, shortly before his death, won the Whitbread Book of the Year award for "Tales of Ovid", his reworking of Ovid's "Metamorphoses". He was named England's poet laureate in 1984; when he died, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Hughes "a towering figure in 20th-century literature".
|Sylvia Plath and her younger brother grew up outside Boston. Plath's father, a Polish immigrant, was a professor of biology at Boston University and an expert on bees. Her mother's parents came from Austria. Plath was an intelligent, sensitive child who published her first poem when she was 8. Her father died that same year, and the family moved to Wellesley to live with grandparents, while Mrs. Plath taught in a secretarial course. From an early age, Sylvia Plath, a popular, prize-winning A student, was known as a perfectionist. After many rejections, she published her first short story in "Seventeen" magazine in 1950, and also a poem in the "Christian Science Monitor". The summer after her junior year at Smith, Plath spent a month in New York City as a student guest editor at "Mademoiselle" magazine, following which she attempted suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills, experiences she immortalized in her autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar", published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas because she was afraid the book would cause pain to people she had drawn on as characters. She graduated from Smith with honors, then studied at Cambridge on a Fulbright scholarship, where, in 1956, she married the poet Ted Hughes. In 1960, when she was 28, her first book of poetry, "The Colossus", was published in England. She and Hughes lived in a Devon village, but by 1962 they had separated, and Plath, impoverished and despairing, moved to London with her two children, writing in the early mornings while they slept. During the cold winter of 1963, Plath committed suicide by gassing herself in her kitchen. Her last poems were published posthumously.