May Sarton Biography

Journalist, Poet, Author (1912–1995)
May Sarton was a writer of poetry, novels and memoirs including her Journal of a Solitude.


May Sarton was born on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. An accomplished memoirist, Sarton boldly came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her later memoir, Journal of a Solitude, was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton died in York, Maine, on July 16, 1995.

Early Life

May Sarton was born Eleanore Marie Sarton on May 3, 1912, in Wondelgem, Belgium. She was a well-regarded writer and poet whose career spanned close to six decades. The daughter of science historian George Sarton, she moved to the United States at the age of 4. Sarton grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and began writing poetry as a teenager.

After graduating high school, Sarton went to New York City to pursue a career as an actress. She apprenticed with the Civic Repertory Theatre for a number of years before starting the Associated Actors Theatre in 1933. Even while exploring a life in the theater, Sarton continued to write. She devoted herself to writing after her theater company folded. A frequent traveler to Europe, she met such important literary figures as Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen and W.H. Auden.


Her writing career began to take off in the 1930s. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937. The following year she had her first novel, The Single Hound, published. Around this time, she also worked an instructor and lecturer at a number of schools. Delving into the genre of memoir, Sarton wrote her first autobiographical work, I Knew a Phoenix (1959).

In 1965, May Sarton took a great personal risk with one of her best-known works, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965). It was in this book that she told her readers that she was a lesbian; she boldly came out at a time when few others did. This move did not diminish her popularity; later novels such as Kinds of Love (1970) scored well with the public. Sarton continued to build on her reputation as a memoirist with 1973's Journal of a Solitude, giving readers an inside look at her experiences as a female artist. The work earned accolades from critics and won her new fans.

Later Years

May Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her last memoir, Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming Into Eighty, was published in 1993. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.

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