Tony Harrison was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1937 to a working-class family, and his primary education was in the Cross Flatts County Primary School. A promising student, he moved from there to the Leeds Grammar School. (At the secondary school level, English education clearly differentiates between students with academic inclinations and talents and students likely to terminate their education in their teens, a separation that often has serious class implications.) Harrison went on to Leeds University, where he earned a degree in classics and a diploma in linguistics.
Harrison was married to Rosemarie Crossfield Dietzsch in 1962; they had a daughter and a son but were later divorced. He began his first career in 1962 as an itinerant university lecturer, teaching for four years in Nigeria, and in Prague, Czechoslovakia, for one year. In 1967, he became the first Northern Arts Fellow in Poetry at the Universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Durham. Between 1973 and 1978, he had close connections as a translator and adaptor of European dramas with Great Britain’s National Theatre and served as resident dramatist with them in 1977-1978. He also developed a continuing relationship as translator and librettist with the Metropolitan Opera, while maintaining his personal connections with northern England by living in Newcastle.
In the late 1980’s, Harrison became directly involved as a theater director and as a playwright. He became a stage director at the National Theatre in London and was given the responsibility of bringing his first play, The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, into performance, first at the ancient stadium at Delphi in Greece and then in London, with further presentations in Yorkshire and in Denmark. The play was originally written for one performance, but it proved to be strong enough for a major run. In 1984, he married Teresa Stratas, an opera singer. He is widely known as a poet and commentator on poetry in countries as far apart as Cuba, Brazil, Senegal, and Gambia.