Elizabeth Winder has been in a whirlwind of attention since publishing her book on poet and writer Sylvia Plath in April, and she has enjoyed every second of it.
Winder's "Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953" was published by HarperCollins Publishers and is her first book. Her individual poems have been published in journals in the past.
Winder, 32, is a native of York County who grew up in the Queens Lake neighborhood. She graduated from Bruton High School and the College of William and Mary, and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.
Now living in Virginia Beach, Winder has been busy with publicity for the book ever since its publication. She got the proposal for it in November of 2010 and said the majority of the writing took two years with last-minute edits not completed until February.
"It's been my complete focus," Winder said.
The book has been reviewed and written about far and wide, from The New York Times to Publishers Weekly, USA Today to The Guardian and O, the Oprah Magazine.
Winder focused in on Plath's time in New York prior to her writing "The Bell Jar" and taking her own life at age 30. Plath worked as a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine the summer of 1953, and Winder details that time period specifically.
She chose Plath as a book subject because of her own curiosity.
"She's been a person and a writer I've been interested in for more than half my life," Winder said. "I read The Bell Jar for first time when I was 14, and it made a huge impression on me. It seemed fun, glamorous; I didn't think it was that dark or depressing."
Winder said she was captivated by Plath's perspective, and read all of her books.
"She's someone that's always kind of been in the forefront of my mind," Winder said. "I've read all of her biographies. I thought it was interesting that this summer in her life in 1953, no one seemed to give it that much attention and in my mind it seemed so rich, vivid and so dynamic that I thought it warranted a book of its own."
Winder used the context of constricted roles for women in 1950s America to provide a backdrop for Plath's conflicted thoughts on marriage versus career.
"That's such a huge part of this story and a lot of my research revolved around that," Winder said. "Especially for women my age and my parents' age, it was so different back then. We can watch "Mad Men" and look at pictures from that time, but to get into that mentality it took a little bit of research and work.
"For example if you read her journals, particularly from when she was in college, a recurring theme is the idea of marriage versus career and that really stood out to me. She's 19 and she's thinking about these things, and also just the idea that it was one or the other."
Women writers, and women intellectuals in general, at the time were labeled with archaic terms such as bluestocking and there was a sense they had to sacrifice their femininity on some level, Winder said.
"That was a really strong paradigm back then, and it wasn't something she wanted to do or to be forced to do," Winder said.
Her research on the time period included everything from wardrobes that included a rubber girdle and nylon stockings in hot summer weather to dating difficulties, Winder said. Worries about unwanted pregnancy were constant and a double standard was very prevalent.
"It was a very different world and that informed every second of their lives, absolutely," Winder said.
Modern day mentions of Plath often paint her as a morose object of derision, which makes Winder bristle. She points to one such comment in "Annie Hall."
Such characterizations are not only "vulgar and reductive, but missing a huge point and a huge part of her story," Winder said.
Handling attention for the book not only broke two and a half years of isolation spent writing it, but has allowed Winder to connect with her audience. She tries to read everything written about her work.
"It's been so much fun," she said. "It's just made me so very happy and so very grateful. As a writer it feels so good to know that people are reading your work and responding to it, whether it's positive or negative.
"I'm not just writing for myself in a journal, I'm writing to share something with others and for them to think about and connect to. I love that a lot of the readers are very detail-oriented like me, like to see what details they pick up and also differing viewpoints."
She hasn't written much poetry lately, but Winder said she still sees herself as a poet. Though the Plath book is nonfiction, she said she kind of sees it as an exercise in poetry in a way because it's not completely separate for her in terms of language.
Her next project is in the works, with her agent currently shopping a book proposal.
"I can't say too much about it, but I'm sticking with women in mid-century culture," Winder said. "That's what I'm interested in."
'Pain, Parties, Work'
Elizabeth Winder's book "Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953" has been published by HarperCollins Publishers. It is available in bookstores and through online booksellers.