Tony Harrison Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Tony Harrison was born in the northern English industrial city of Leeds, into a working-class family. His father was a baker, and it was presumed that Harrison would grow up as a member of the British working class. He proved, however, to be an excellent student, and he obtained a scholarship that allowed him to study at Leeds University, where he read the classics. His educational achievements, although a source of pride for his family, were also to cause personal difficulty, since they separated him from his class background, still a very strong element in English society in the twentieth century. This problem of having been, in a sense, educated outside his class, has been a constant theme for him poetically, and he still identifies very strongly with the concerns of the laboring members of modern society, especially in Britain. He has been called the unofficial laureate of lower-class England, championing their blighted, confined plight in modern society, while also feeling free to criticize the vulgarian Yahooism of its worst elements.

As a university lecturer, he taught first in Nigeria and then in Czechoslovakia. His literary interests were very wide, and he was deeply interested in languages. He wrote poetry and drama and translated literature from early in his career. He and James Simmons collaborated on a translation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrat (411 b.c.e.) into the pidgin English of one of the Nigerian tribes while he was teaching there. His interest in translation and adaptation of the great literature of the past into modern texts led him into work not only in the theater but also in opera, where he developed a reputation both as a translator and as a librettist of original texts. He has, as a result, developed his skills as a poet in ways that have made it possible for him to make a good living as an artist, a somewhat unusual situation for a poet, who usually has...

(The entire section is 789 words.)