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University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, Regno Unito
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St Mary on Paddington Green, 1LG, St Mary's Square, London W2, Regno Unito
Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE (28 February 1909 – 16 July 1995) was an English poet, novelist, and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work. He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the United States Library of Congress in 1965.
In a letter to Roger Senhouse (27 December 1930), Lytton Strachey reported that Spender ‘Thinks of living in Germany with a German boy, but hasn’t yet found a German boy to live with.’
In 1933, Spender fell in love with Tony Hyndman, and they lived together during 1935–1936. In 1934, Spender had an affair with Muriel Gardiner. In a letter to Christopher Isherwood in September 1934 he said: "I find boys much more attractive, in fact I am rather more than usually susceptible, but actually I find the actual sexual act with women more satisfactory, more terrible, more disgusting, and, in fact, more everything." In 1936, shortly after the end of his relationship with Tony Hyndman, Spender fell in love with and married Agnes Maria Pearn (known as Inez Pearn). This marriage broke down in 1939. In 1941, Spender married Natasha Litvin, a concert pianist. This marriage lasted until his death. Their daughter Lizzie is married to the Australian actor and comedian Barry Humphries, and their son Matthew Spender is married to the daughter of the Armenian artist Arshile Gorky.
Spender's sexuality has been the subject of debate. Spender's seemingly changing attitudes have caused him to be labeled bisexual, repressed, latently homophobic, or simply someone so complex as to resist easy labelling. Many of his friends in his earlier years were gay. Spender himself had many affairs with men in his earlier years, most notably with Tony Hyndman (who is called "Jimmy Younger" in his memoir World Within World). Following his affair with Muriel Gardiner he shifted his focus to heterosexuality, though his relationship with Hyndman complicated both this relationship and his short-lived marriage to Inez Pearn (1936–1939). His marriage to Natasha Litvin in 1941 seems to have marked the end of his romantic relationships with men, although not the end of all homosexual activity, as his unexpurgated diaries reveal. Subsequently, he toned down homosexual allusions in later editions of his poetry. The following line was revised in a republished edition: "Whatever happens, I shall never be alone. I shall always have a boy, a railway fare, or a revolution." was later revised to read: "Whatever happens, I shall never be alone. I shall always have an affair, a railway fare, or a revolution." Spender sued author David Leavitt for allegedly using his relationship with "Jimmy Younger" in Leavitt's While England Sleeps in 1994. The case was settled out of court with Leavitt removing certain portions from his text.
Stephen Spender (right) and friend, embodying Freundschaft: photographed by Herbert List, Germany, 1929
On 16 July 1995, Spender died of a heart attack in Westminster, London, aged 86. He was buried in the graveyard of St Mary on Paddington Green Church in London.
The Stephen Spender Trust is a registered charity that was founded to widen knowledge of 20th century literature, with particular focus on Stephen Spender’s circle of writers, and to promote literary translation. The Trust's activities include poetry readings; academic conferences; a seminar series in partnership with the Institute of English Studies; an archive programme in conjunction with the British Library and the Bodleian; work with schools via Translation Nation; The Guardian Stephen Spender Prize, an annual poetry translation prize established in 2004; and the Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize, a worldwide Russian–English translation competition.
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