A Pulitzer Prize Winning Look at “Our Town”

October 20, 2009 | Filed under: Events

PMcG Color

On Thursday, October 22, 2009 the Larchmont Historical Society (LHS) together with the University Club will host a fascinating evening featured a talk entitled Phyllis McGinley: the Poet Laureate of the Suburbs, presented by Dr. Joanna Gill, Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Literature at the University of Exeter, UK.  The event was held at the Larchmont Yacht Club.

In this talk Dr. Gill discussed the life and work of Larchmont poet and essayist Phyllis McGinley, who in her mid-century heyday was one of the most celebrated figures in American letters. McGinley won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her selected poems Times Three (60,000 copies in hardback sold). Her book Sixpence in her Shoe, published in 1964, was devoted to ‘the glory of housewifery’ and it enjoyed six months on the New York Times bestseller list.

The talk took guests from McGinley’s upbringing in rural Oregon and Utah to her life in Larchmont as wife and mother (McGinley and her family lived at 12 Hazel Lane, a home featured on the 2007 LHS House Tour.)  Dr. Gill  examined the emergence of McGinley’s poetic voice in the context of changing mid-century attitudes towards the suburbs and in relation to new trends in American poetry. Jo Gill observed “This talk considers the significance to McGinley’s development of a distinctive poetic style of her everyday experience as a suburban wife and mother.” By examining particular poems in detail Dr. Gill traced the influence of Larchmont life on her writing. “ By drawing on unpublished material from the McGinley archive at Syracuse University, Dr. Gill reveal the importance of the people, places and rituals of Larchmont to McGinley’s success—an importance which, sadly, became all-to-apparent to her when she briefly left the village for a new home in Connecticut.”

Gossip, success, husbands, fathers, privacy, children, vanity, cocktail clatter, seasons, sexual equality—it all ended up on the backyard barbeque in McGinley’s  upbeat, witty, yet sometimes unnerving, rendering of the suburban landscape.  This was an evening not to be missed.

About Dr. Joanna Gill: Dr. Jo Gill is Lecturer in 20th Century Literature at the University of Exeter, UK. She has three children. She is the author of Anne Sexton’s Confessional Poetics (University Press of Florida 2007), of Women’s Poetry (Columbia University Press 2007), and of The Cambridge Introduction to Sylvia Plath (Cambridge University Press 2008). She is currently writing a book—from which this talk is drawn—entitled The Poetics of the American Suburbs.