University of Rochester

Author's First Novel, about Sylvia Plath, Wins Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize

December 29, 2004

Kate Moses, whose novel Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath has received international acclaim for its fictional account of the last months of the poet's life, has been named the recipient of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman.

Moses will visit the University of Rochester in April 2005 to accept the prize and read selections from her work. The Kafka Prize is awarded annually to female authors of exceptional works of fiction by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English.

Wintering (St. Martinís Press, 2003) has been praised for its rich, lyrical prose and its insightful and intelligent look into Plath's life, the breakup of her marriage to poet and short story writer Ted Hughes, and her eventual suicide. Moses's novel follows Plath's life as she completes the Ariel series of poems and moves to London with her two children, only to fall ill and accidentally run into her husband's lover.

Flirting with emotional breakdown, Plath realizes that her poetic triumph has come at a terrible personal cost. Clinging to what she believes is the last thing that can save her, hope, Plath sends Hughes on a dangerous trek through London's worst snowstorm in decades to retrieve items that she feels possess symbolic power: apples, honey, and red curtains left behind at her country home.

Kimberley Healey, assistant professor of French at the University of Rochester and chair of this year's prize committee, explained, "This book appealed to us on multiple levels, from its crackling prose to it poignant depiction of a women's ambition and poetic genius. The themes presented in Wintering go far beyond the life of one individual."

The novel has been translated into seven languages, including French, Spanish, and Chinese. Plath's friend and editor, Peter Davison, has commented, "(Mosesís) novel evokes the special qualities of the wife, the mother, the poet, the woman whose intensity of experience somehow overwhelmed her senses, her sanity, but never her language. No other version of those mysterious last months before Sylvia Plath's suicide goes so far to restore to life the poet, the woman, whom I knew."

The New York Times Book Review called Wintering "beautiful and moving . . . Significant . . . (written) with lyrical dexterity and great economy . . ." while the Los Angeles Times described the novel as "Moving and beautifully sustained . . . A heroic tale." The Library Journal noted, " . . . this accomplished and richly textured first novel gives Plath back much of her humanity . . . Using her poetic vision, Moses evokes a powerful portrait that is typically missing from other works."

Moses was born in and lives in San Francisco. She has worked as an editor in publishing and as literary director at San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts. In 1997, she became one of two founding editors of Salon.comís "Mothers Who Think" Web site. Moses is co-editor of the anthology Mothers Who Think, which won the American Book Award in 2000. Wintering is her first novel.

The Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize was established in 1976 as a tribute to the memory of Janet Kafka, a young editor whose untimely death ended a career many felt would have furthered the causes of women and literature. Previous winners have included Toni Morrison for Song of Solomon and Gail Godwin for A Southern Family. The prize for 2003 carries an award of $5,000.