North Central High School Distinguished Alumna

DIANE WOOD MIDDLEBROOK

Class of 1957
Inducted 2000

Diane Wood Middlebrook was an American biographer, poet, and teacher. After graduating from North Central H.S. in 1957, she entered Whitman College, later transferring to the University of Washington. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 from UW and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1968.

Middlebrook began her teaching career at Stanford as an assistant professor in 1966 and gradually worked her way up to university professor and associate dean positions. She won a number of fellowships, grants, and awards along the way.

Middlebrook was selected to head Stanford’s new Center for Research on Women (eventually to become the Clayman Institute for Gender Research), one of the first such centers in the nation in the 1970s. She was noted for her diversity of study subjects; one syllabus from that era lists both Ovid and Queen Latifah. She was chair of Stanford’s Feminist Studies Program from 1985-88.

She received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, the Stanford Humanities Center, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Study Center at Bellagio. She was a founding trustee of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

In 2002, she stepped down from her position as Professor of English at Stanford University to become a full-time writer. In 1987 she and her husband had established a second home in London. In 2004 she was selected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and was appointed as an Honorary Member of Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Her first book, “Anne Sexton: A Biography,” (1991) spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, which was unusual for the biography of a minor poet. “Suits Me,” (1998) was Middlebrook’s story of Billy Tipton, a female jazz musician who lived as a man for fifty years. It was a bestselling biography and a finalist for a Lambda Foundation Literary Award.

“Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath, a Marriage” (2003) was also a bestseller. It was a 2004 finalist for the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award in non-fiction. In 2006 the French translation won the Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger. The New York Times called the book “inspiring,” and “attentive and clear-eyed.”

Diane Wood Middlebrook was working on a biography of the Roman poet Ovid when she died of cancer in December 2007 at the age of 68.

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