a centenary conference

Friday 27 February 2009

organised by the Institute of English Studies and the Stephen Spender Memorial Trust

Speakers: John Sutherland, Barbara Hardy, Val Cunningham, Peter McDonald, Mark Rawlinson, Alan Jenkins, Stephen Romer, Mike Scammell

Sir Stephen Spender (1909–1995), poet, translator, literary critic and editor, was born in London and educated at Oxford, where he first became associated with such other outstanding 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, are a detailed account of his times and contemporaries. Knighted in 1983 for services to literature, Stephen Spender is the only Briton ever to have held the post of Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, as the American equivalent of Poet Laureate was then called.

His passionate and lyrical verse, filled with images of the modern industrial world yet intensely personal, is collected in volumes such as Twenty Poems (1930), The Still Centre (1939), Poems of Dedication (1946), Collected Poems, 1928–1985 (1986) and New Collected Poems (2004). World Within World , Stephen Spender’s autobiography, World Within World, is recognised as one of the most illuminating literary autobiographies to come out of the 1930s and 1940s.

Stephen Spender’s other works include literary and social criticism, short stories, novels and the heavily autobiographical The Temple (set in Germany on the 1930s) as well as 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’s teaching at American universities during the 1960s was followed by a six-year stint from 1970 in the English department of UCL, when he and Grey Gowrie were appointed to chairs by Frank Kermode, who wanted (in the words of John Sutherland) ‘to reconnect the department with the living world of London letters’. During this time Spender’s passionate concern for the rights of banned and silenced writers to free expression led to his founding Index on Censorship. John Sutherland has written the authorised biography of Stephen Spender, published by Penguin in 2004. The New Collected Journals are scheduled for publication by Faber in late 2009.

Conference papers will explore Stephen Spender’s poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his relationship to the political and historical developments of his time, and will reassess his achievement in the light of recent archival research and new critical perspectives.
Full programme to be confirmed and registration to open in the New Year.

Enquiries: Jon Millington, Events Officer, Institute of English Studies, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU; tel +44 (0) 207 664 4859; Email jon.millington@sas.ac.uk