ACIS Logo Digital Transitions: Recovering Edna O’Brien’s Sylvia Plath Screenplay

Following the success of Virginia: A Play (1980), the Irish writer Edna O’Brien took to bringing dramatic form to the American poet Sylvia Plath’s life and work in notebooks dating from May of 1985. O’Brien’s unpublished, handwritten drafts and typescripts for what was likely to have been a screenplay remain stored offsite as part of Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library in Atlanta, Georgia. Ultimately, O’Brien set this challenge aside. But its remnants invite a wealth of interpretive challenges, particularly regarding how to approach a text with which its author may have been dissatisfied. O’Brien’s abandoned materials introduce her developing sense of Plath for what may have become a global audience. Left unrecorded, remnants of stage directions and voice-overs chart O’Brien’s endeavors. This paper focuses on my New York Institute of Technology students’ efforts to bring digital life to O’Brien’s notebooks and drafts in their Scalar project‚ “Revealing the Roots of Sylvia Plath.” Interpreting O’Brien’s vision of Plath’s life and work, this project demonstrates what Tara McPherson argues in Feminist in a Software Lab (2018) is the relational dimension of materials. In this case, we see the digital medium inspire new connections between O’Brien’s words and those of her subject. Working with Scalar, the students became the curators of discarded fragments, creating meaning in digital space.