Birthday: August 5, 1929
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Alfred
Born Country: England
Born in: London, United Kingdom
Famous as: Poet
Quotes By Al Alvarez
Spouse/Ex-: Anne Adams, Ursula Barr
children: Adam, Kate Alvarez, Luke
Died on: September 23, 2019
place of death: Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
City: London, England
Cause of Death: Pneumonia
education: Oundle School, Corpus Christi College
awards: 2010 - A.C. Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature
Who was Al Alvarez?
Al Alvarez was an English poet, essayist, novelist, and critic. Born and raised in London, Al initially studied in Hampstead. He finished high school from the ‘Oundle School’ and later joined the ‘Oxford University,’ where he studied English literature. He was also a music lover and had grown up listening to classical music. Over time, he also become highly interested in poetry. In his late twenties, he began working with ‘The Observer,’ as a poetry editor and critic. Through his articles, he introduced British readers to American authors and poets such as Sylvia Plath and John Berryman. Over the course of his career, he had released many poetry collections, such as ‘Apparition,’ ‘Autumn to Autumn,’ ‘Selected Poems,’ ‘The School of Donne,’ and ‘The Writer’s Voice.’ In addition, he had also written non-fiction, such as ‘The Savage God,’ ‘Night,’ and ‘Life After Marriage.’ He also made regular appearances on the talk show ‘After Dark.’ He died from viral pneumonia at the age of 90.
Childhood & Early Life
Al Alvarez was born Alfred Alvarez, on August 5, 1929, in London, United Kingdom, into a Sephardic Jewish family that had been living in England for 200 years. His was a rich family, and his father worked in the clothing trade.
Although at the time of his birth, his parents’ wealth had reduced substantially, the family still owned some lavish estates and a mansion in Hampstead. Al spent most of his childhood years in the mansion.
They had access to high-end services and had many servants around the house. They also had ample sources of entertainment. One of the main interests of his father was listening to classical music on a gramophone. Al himself grew up fascinated with the art of music. This also drove him to develop an interest in poetry.
He attended ‘The Hall School’ in Hampstead before he joined the ‘Oundle School.’ It was at the ‘Oundle School’ that Al developed varied interests such as sports and writing.
He scored high grades consistently, apart from performing well in sports. He also turned out to be a chaotic kid and usually got into trouble with the school management. In the final year of high school, he deliberately broke a rule, for which he narrowly escaped expulsion.
By the time he graduated high school, he had made up his mind about being a professional writer. He read and wrote more poetry and joined an English program at the ‘Oxford University.’
However, there was no great respect for the then-contemporary education system in Al’s heart. He later criticized the system by saying that English was being taught as “geography” in the college. He somehow graduated and began working his way up as a writer.
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In his early 20s, after finishing college, he moved to the U.S.A. and served as a “D.H. Lawrence Fellow” at the ‘University of New Mexico’ and a “Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow” at ‘Princeton University.’ However, a few years later, he quit his job and moved back to his home country, where he began working as a poetry editor for ‘The Observer.’
He had started working for ‘The Observer’ in 1956 and for the next few years, he became one of the main reasons for the emergence of “Movement Writers” such as Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis.
Around the same time, he got in touch with renowned authors such as Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. In his writings, he popularized these writers and stated that it was an important time for the Western literature scene, as these new writers were making a real difference. This also led those artists to step into mainstream literature.
In 1962, Al edited a book titled ‘The New Poetry,’ which was collection of poems which he thought could turn out to be significant in the post-war poetry era. The poems included in the book touched themes such as the nuclear war threat, world peace, and the Jewish ‘Holocaust.’ It included the works of the best poets of the post-war era and also had three previously unpublished poems by Sylvia Plath, who had committed suicide in 1963.
Through his writings in ‘The Observer,’ he also introduced British readers to other popular American writers such as John Berryman, Miroslav Holub, and Robert Lowell.
He later quit working for ‘The Observer’ and focused on his own work. Over the next few years, he wrote many poems and non-fiction books.
In 1972, he wrote a non-fiction book titled ‘The Savage God: A Study of Suicide.’ The book was the result of his own suicidal feelings after the suicide of his close friend Sylvia Plath. The book also pondered upon the reason that could have driven Sylvia into taking such a devastating step and explored the link between creativity and mental illnesses. The book popularized the works of Sylvia Plath among the common public.
Toward the last phase of his writing career, he penned books such as ‘Feeding the Rat: A Climber’s Life on the Edge’ and ‘Where Did It All Go Right?’ Through these books, Al shared his real-life experiences of dealing with traumatic situations in his life.
In his book ‘Offshore,’ he recounted his experiences of spending time in the tall oil rigs of the North Sea. He mentioned the experience as similar to that of going from one black hole to another.
In 1982, he released yet another non-fiction book. Titled ‘Life After Marriage,’ the book contained his experiences with divorce. He also wrote the book titled ‘The Biggest Game in Town’ the following year, which made way for many books based on poker and is regarded as the best book ever written on the game.
In the 2000s, he wrote a collection of essays titled ‘Risky Business’ and ‘Pondlife: A Swimmer’s Journal.’ It was based on his daily swimming routine in London.
Some of his most important poetry collections were ‘Autumn to Autumn,’ the 1978 book ‘Selected Poems,’ and the 2002 release ‘New and Selected Poems.’ He spent most of his career working on other poets’ works and often said that he was too busy to write.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Al Alvarez married Ursula Barr in the mid-1950s. They had dated only for a few weeks before getting married. They had a son named Adam. The couple divorced later.
In 1966, he married Anne Adams, a child psychotherapist. The couple had two children, Luke and Kate Alvarez. Al and Anne remained together until Al’s death.
Al passed away from viral pneumonia on September 23, 2019. He was 90 years old at the time of his death.