Amanda Golden is Associate Professor of English at New York Institute of Technology. She is the author of Annotating Modernism: Marginalia and Pedagogy from Virginia Woolf to the Confessional Poets (Routledge, 2020) and editor of This Business of Words: Reassessing Anne Sexton (UPF, 2016). She is co-editing The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sylvia Plath (2022) with Anita Helle and Maeve O’Brien and The Poems of Sylvia Plath (Faber & Faber, 2024) with Karen V. Kukil. She has also published in Modernism/modernity, The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914-1945, and Woolf Studies Annual.
When it comes to writers’ lives, what remains is fragmentary and incomplete. In her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s protagonist Esther Greenwood refers to such remnants as “the tatty wreckage of my life.” The image of Plath in popular culture is linked to her poetry, but often emphasizes her suicide. Red Comet addresses these assumptions as it sheds new light on Plath’s cultural moment and relevance today. Any biography must confront the fact of an incomplete archive.
Alice Walker began 1982 with Virginia Woolf. Walker would spend the year recording events, plans, and phone numbers in spiral-bound pages of a calendar she had acquired filled with photographs of Woolf and her contemporaries. As Walker crossed out days, her purple ink seeped through one page, partly obscuring Woolf’s photograph on the verso. The lines meet Woolf’s likeness, a purple X just passing her eye. The range of inks that Walker used throughout her calendar suggest that this was chance, but the ink also recalls Walker’s novel published the same year, The Color Purple; likely unbeknownst to Walker, it was also a color in which Woolf preferred to write. It is the materiality of circumstance that makes this artifact a vestige of mass culture, everyday life, and artistic creation.