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Biography

Sir Stephen Harold Spender (1909–1995), English poet, translator, literary critic and editor, was born in London and educated at the University of Oxford, where he first became associated with such other outspoken British literary figures as W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, C. Day Lewis and Louis MacNeice. His book The Thirties and After (1979) recalls these figures and others prominent in the arts and politics and his Journals 1939–1983, published in 1986 and edited by John Goldsmith, are a detailed account of his times and contemporaries.

His passionate and lyrical verse, filled with images of the modern industrial world yet intensely personal, is collected in such volumes as Twenty Poems (1930), The Still Centre (1939), Poems of Dedication (1946), Collected Poems, 1928–1985 (1986).

World Within World, Stephen Spender's autobiography, contains vivid portraits of Virginia Woolf, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Lady Ottoline Morrell, W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood and many other prominent literary figures. First published in 1951 and still in print, World Within World is recognised as one of the most illuminating literary autobiographies to come out of the 1930s and 1940s. There can be few better portrayals of the political and social atmosphere of the 1930s.

The Destructive Element (1935), The Creative Element (1953), The Making of a Poem (1962) and Love-Hate Relations: English and American Sensibilities (1974), about literary exchanges between Britain and the United States, contain literary and social criticism. Stephen Spender's other works include short stories, novels such as The Backward Son and the heavily autobiographical The Temple (set in Germany on the 1930s) and translations of the poetry of Lorca, Altolaguerra, Rilke, Hölderlin, Stefan George and Schiller. From 1939 to 1941 he co-edited Horizon magazine with Cyril Connolly and was editor of Encounter magazine from 1953 to 1967.

Stephen Spender owed his own early recognition and publication as a poet to T. S. Eliot. In turn Spender was always a generous champion of young talent, from his raising a fund for the struggling 19-year-old Dylan Thomas, to a lifelong commitment to helping promote the publication of newcomers. In 1972, with his passionate concern for the rights of banned and silenced writers to free expression, he was the chief founder of Index on Censorship, in response to an appeal on behalf of victimised authors worldwide by the Russian dissident Litvinov.

John Sutherland, emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of English at University College London, has written the authorised biography of Spender, published by Penguin in 2004.

Stephen Spender's New Collected Poems, edited by Michael Brett, was published by Faber in 2004.

Edited by Lara Feigel and John Sutherland with Natasha Spender, the New Selected Journals, 1939–1995, were published by Faber and Faber in 2012.

Natasha Spender died on 21 October 2010. Stephen and Natasha Spender are survived by their son Matthew and daughter Lizzie.
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