Stephen Spender

Date of birth: 
28 Feb 1909
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
16 Jul 1995
Location of death: 






Spender was educated at University College School in Oxford. In his last year at school, he was invited by T. S. Eliot to contribute to The Criterion. In 1930 he travelled in Germany with Christopher Isherwood. On a visit to England from Germany in December 1930, he met John Lehmann. He became part of a politically conscious group of poets, which also included W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day Lewis. He was a propagandist for the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War and a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1936 and 1937.

As a member of the Left Book Club he met South Asians on the Left. Spender’s Forward from Liberalism (1937) was one of the Left Book Club’s most noteworthy publications. From 1939-41 he assisted Cyril Connelly in editing Horizon. He also published some poems in Tambimuttu’s Poetry London. He was co-editor of Encounter from 1953-66. Spender visited Bombay in the 1950s and met Shrimati Sophia Wadia (c.1901-1986), widow of B.P. Wadia (1881-1958), leader of the United Lodge of Theosophists. Both were founder members of the International PEN Club and contributors to the Indian PEN Club magazine.

During his visit Spender also met with Dominic Moraes (1938-2004), the son of Frank Moraes the editor of The Times of India in Bombay. Impressed with his poems Spender mentored Moraes’ early work and recommended him to Neville Coghill at Oxford. Moraes went up to Jesus College, Oxford and went on to win the Hawthornden Poetry Prize before moving to London in the 1960s, making a name for himself as a poet and Soho habitué.

In 1970 Spender became Professor of English at UCL and a founder of Index on Censorship in 1972. He was knighted in 1983.


Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, W. H. Auden, Z. A. Bokhari, Hsiao Ch'ien, T. S. EliotE. M. Forster, Christopher Isherwood, John Lehmann, Louis MacNeice,  Dom Moraes, Frank Moraes, George Orwell, Herbert ReadM. J. Tambimuttu, Dylan Thomas, Shrimati Sophia Wadia, (c.1901-86), B. P. Wadia (1881-1958).

Communist Party of Great Britain, Group Theatre, Indian PEN Club, International PEN.

Published works: 

Nine Experiments (London: Stepehen Spender, 1928)

Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1933)

The Destructive Element: A study of modern writers and beliefs (London: Jonathan Cape, 1935) [Life and Letters series]

The Burning Cactus (London: Faber, 1936) [short stories]

Forward from Liberalism (London: Gollancz, 1937)

(ed. with John Lehmann) Poems for Spain (London: Hogarth Press, 1939)

The Backward Son (London: Hogarth Press, 1940) [novel]

Life and the Poet (London: Secker and Warburg, 1942)

Ruins and Visions: Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1942)

Citizens in War - and After (London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1945)

European Witness (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1946)

Poems of Dedication (London: Faber & Faber, 1947)

The Edge of Being (London: Faber & Faber, 1949)

World Within World: The autobiography of Stephen Spender (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1951)

The Creative Element: A study of vision, despair and orthodoxy among some modern writers (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953)

Sirimione Peninsula (London: Faber & Faber, 1954)

Art Student (London: Poem of the Month Club, 1970)

Collected Poems, 1928-1985 (London: Faber & Faber, 1985)

Dolphins (London: Faber & Faber, 1994)

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Criterion

Encounter  (co-editor)

Horizon (co-editor)

Life and Lettrs Today (reviews)

The Listener

Poetry London

Secondary works: 

Leeming, David, Stephen Spender: A Life in Modernism (New York: Henry Holt, 1999)

O'Neill, Mcihael and Reeves, Gareth, Auden, MacNeice, Spender : The Thirties Poetry (Basingstoke : Macmillan, 1992)

Sutherland, John, Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography (London: Penguin 2005)

Archive source: 

Occasional writings, journalism, and essays, British Library, St Pancras

Stephen Spender Memorial Trust Archive, London

Correspondence with Leonard and Virginia Woolf, University of Sussex

Correspondence with Victor Gollancz, Modern Record Centre, University of Warwick