A Palo Alto Journalist Turned Novelist Explores the Life and Work of Sylvia Plath

TRUE FICTION Author Lee Kravetz puts his journalistic eye to work in his debut novel, “The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.” Photo credit: ComePlum Photo

Lee Kravetz’s agent begged him not to become a novelist. With his first two non-fiction books, his career as a reliable psychological journalist was cemented. But after reading the manuscript of Kravetz’s novel The last confessions of Sylvia P., his agent said he could not return to non-fiction.

In their first book, Supersurvivors, Kravetz and co-author David B. Feldman interviewed people who experienced incredible accomplishments from seemingly insurmountable trauma. In his follow-up, strange contagionhe examined the physiological, psychological, and social factors that, combined, drove five Palo Alto high school students to commit suicide over a six-month period in 2009.

This Tuesday, Kravetz joins novelist Meg Waite Clayton (The Wednesday Sisters) to talk about his first novel, The last confessions of Sylvia Pat an online event hosted by Kepler’s Literary Foundation in Menlo Park.

Kravetz has a soft hand when it comes to heavy topics and he pairs it with old-school optimism. Coming out of the pandemic, he sees people changing for the better. He points to disaster and the shortness of life as stark reminders that what society once considered normal is no longer viable.

“There is a growth in the trauma. Someone is going through something really scary in life and they don’t just bounce back, they bounce back and end up changing their life in really remarkable ways,” he says.

Kravetz’s journey to writing novels involved journalism and psychology, and poetry also had a big impact, but the book did not come from a place of book research. Rather, it came from his postgraduate work at a mental hospital in Menlo Park – the same hospital Ken Kesey worked at when he started writing. Flight over a cuckoo’s nest. This is where Kravetz rediscovered Plath’s classic The glass bella fictional account of his stay in psychiatric care at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.

In the 1950s, Plath attended poetry workshops under Robert Lowell and alongside Anne Sexton, forming a foundation of confessional poets, who catalyzed vulnerable and visceral poetry like no one before them. At 30, Plath committed suicide unaware of the impact her work would have on generations to come. Kravetz’s story yearns to turn back time and give him hope.

The last confessions is a social and temporal triangulation around Sylvia Plath and her journey through depression and expression. Through the confessions of three composite characters, based on Plath’s influences from different eras, it reveals a 1950s woman living with what we now know to be bipolar disorder, who is also a poet with a very focused lens on everything. outside of itself.

Kravetz’s take on our collective sanity takes a page from Plath’s poetic acknowledgment of his own mental state

“100% of us are currently experiencing collective trauma. Everyone must recognize what they are experiencing,” he says. “After going through the last two years and coming away saying, ‘Oh! We are well!’ only denies the reality of the fact.

Yet he remains optimistic, calling for a more open conversation about the pain caused by these years of upheaval and isolation.

“We should have a poster campaign all over the country, on every bus and on every TV show: You need to ask for help. Everyone does it.”

Like most of us, the pandemic has taken him to dark places.

“To say that you haven’t or haven’t really talked about it, whether through poetry or art, or even through a therapist or a friend, is doing yourself a huge disservice. “

But he sees no reason to lose hope.

“There is a legitimate scientific formula for hope. As long as you have a goal (the city you’re heading to), the agency (the car you’re driving), and the path (the road you’re driving), then you have hope.

As a novel, The last confessions is part ode, part dirge. Moreover, it is an elopement for the dawn of confessional poetry and a therapeutic metaphor for our collective madness. Although he now writes fiction, Kravetz has no intention of leaving the real world out of his stories; he just makes sure they all include a little card to hope.

Lee Kravetz
Tue, 6 p.m., free
Kepler’s books, online event

About Cody E. Vaughn

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