Biography of Ted Hughes shortlisted for £20,000 prize

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The new, unauthorised biography about Ted Hughes by Jonathan Bate has been shortlisted for the 2015 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. The judges for the £20,000 prize described Bate’s book as “an extraordinarily thoughtful account” and said it would “leave no one feeling neutral”.

Sir Jonathan Bate, provost of Worcester College, Oxford, is said to have had “full access, unlike earlier biographers” to the poet’s archives in the US, as well as to material held by the British Library. According to his biography, a poem by Hughes called ‘Last Letter’ was inspired by an argument Hughes had with his estranged wife Sylvia Plath had on the weekend of her death.

Last year the estate of Ted Hughes hit back at claims that it had barred Bate from archives, asked that he return photocopies of privately held documents, and withdrawn his right to quote extensively from the poet's work – described by the professor as "an essential aspect of serious scholarship". Bate was unable to continue his planned “literary life” of Hughes after Hughes’s widow, Carol, withdrew her support for the book. The unauthorised biography is being published by William Collins.


Background: More twists in the biography tale 


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Search is on for poems to form poetry trail in Huddersfield park ►


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Greg Freeman

Mon 12th Oct 2015 23:08

We were talking about the Ted Hughes film after the Marsden poetry jam yesterday, Cynthia. I've just watched it tonight on catch-up. Fascinating programme. I didn't realise what a hard time it was for him in the 70s particularly. And Frieda Hughes recounting how she got the syllabus for her O-level, and found both her parents on it. I don't know if you saw this wonderful piece that Cathy Bryant wrote on the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's death two years ago Write Out Loud remains very proud to have published it.

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Mon 12th Oct 2015 16:51

Did anyone else see the BBC programme about Ted Hughes, Saturday night, I think? The coverage was broad and very enlightening, presumably well-sourced. It filled in a lot of vague spaces for me on many fronts, but especially concerning the 'Sylvia Plathe 'syndrome' that I've always found hard to understand.

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