Sylvia Plath was born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on October 27, 1932, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Her father, Otto Plath, was a German immigrant who became a biology professor at Boston University. Her mother, Aurelia Plath, taught German and English to high school students.
Plath grew up in Winthrop, a seaside town near Boston, and Wellesley, Massachusetts, where the family moved in 1942. Plath's father died of diabetes in 1940, when she was only eight. Throughout her short life, Plath felt the loss of her father.
Plath's literary talent blossomed early. She published her first poem when she was eight, in the Boston (Sunday) Herald. When she was in her teens and attending public schools in Wellesley she sent her poems to many magazines and newspapers. Seventeen published one of her short stories, and periodicals such as The Christian Science Monitor, Mademoiselle, and Harper's also published her work.
Plath was also academically gifted and won many prizes at school. She won a scholarship to Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and in 1953, she spent the summer before her final college year in New York as a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine. Plath was not happy in New York, however, and on her return to Wellesley she tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. She wrote about this period of her life in her autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, in which the protagonist, Esther Greenwood, also has an internship at a New York magazine and also tries to commit suicide.
Plath recovered from her depression through electric shock treatment and psychotherapy. She returned to Smith for the second semester in 1954 and graduated in 1955. She then won a Fulbright scholarship and studied at Cambridge University, where she met the English poet Ted Hughes. They married the following year, in 1956.
Plath returned with Hughes to Massachusetts in 1957, where she taught for one year at Smith College. However, the demands of teaching made it hard for her to find time to write, and the following year Plath worked as a receptionist at a hospital in Boston. While in Boston she attended Robert Lowell's poetry classes at Boston University.
In 1959, she returned to England and lived in London. In 1960, her first book of poems, The Colossus was published in England, and she also gave birth to a girl. In 1961, the family moved to Devon, in southwest England, where she had another child, this time a boy.
But her marriage was under strain, and in December, 1962, Plath separated from her husband and moved with her children to London. Her health was poor and her income small, but she found time from four until eight in the morning to write, and it was during this period that she wrote the finest poems of her career.
In January 1963, The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.
On February 11, 1963, at the age of thirty, Plath took her own life by putting her head in the gas oven.
Plath's reputation grew posthumously. In 1965, her most impressive poetry collection, Ariel, was published. Two years later, The Bell Jar was published under Plath's own name. In 1971, two more poetry collections appeared, Crossing the Water and Winter Trees. In 1981, Plath's Collected Poems were published, followed a year later by The Journals of Sylvia Plath.