Southwestern home. I had a lucky childhood, but the things that were
wrong with the ’50s were wrong with it: repression, bigotry, a puny morality—and I was unhappily, confusedly aware of these.
I got to New York in 1955 as a “guest editor” on Mademoiselle magazine’s contest. I was the youngest of the twenty young women there
for the month of June (we called ourselves girls or gals), just after my
freshman year at the University of Arizona. Also in that group were Jane
Truslow, who later married Sylvia Plath’s former boyfriend Peter Davison; novelist and food writer Gael Greene; designer Adri Steckling—and
Joan Didion, who did not especially seem marked out for greatness. I
had not heard of Sylvia Plath but was for a time put onto writing an
article about her and was impressed by the poetry and that she had won
the Mount Holyoke poetry prize. I was myself very ambitious, I’m not
happy to say. I was interviewed by Barnard while I was there and offered
a scholarship, enrolled that fall, and never looked back.
That summer at Mademoiselle I met a young poet, Richard Aldridge,
who was going to Oxford on a Fulbright in the bunch with Sylvia Plath.
Later, as a sophomore transfer student, I worked at the 92nd Street Y,
reading manuscripts for the first of their poetry prizes, which would be
won by Ted Hughes, just then in the process of marrying Sylvia.
My happiest time at Barnard was between junior and senior years,
when I was awarded a coveted job by Barnard’s English lit teachers—a
summer temp position at the New Yorker. Senior year, Barnard’s drama
department produced my (prefeminist) play Garden Party, I got the
Mount Holyoke poetry prize and then the Marshall scholarship to Cambridge, England.
CULLITY: And thus began a life that would include England for some years.
BURROWAY: Yes, I was in England for two periods, 1958–1960 as a student
at Cambridge and 1965–1971 as a young mother, teaching at the University of Sussex. The Village, where I’d been living in 1958, was still scruffy
and cheap; England was still trying to right itself from the war. In New
York I was aware of Kerouac but not of Susan Sontag, who might have
lived around the corner from my single shared room on Grove Street. In
London, I reconnected with Sylvia, who along with Hughes was being
published by Faber, where my first novel was also in press. With my
friend Zulfikar Ghose I went to dinner with Ted and Sylvia—spaghetti
on Chalcot Square, which Sylvia described as full of “squalidia.” That