Born in Hull 20 September 1902
Christened Florence Margaret, but always called Peggy by her
family, and later given the nickname Stevie by her friends
Family Moved to Avondale Road, Palmers Green, 1906
Lived in the same house with her mother, sister and until 1968
with her Aunt Maggie, the "darling Lion of Hull"
Educated at Palmers Green High School, North London Collegiate
for Girls and Mrs Hoster's Secretarial College
From 1923 to 1953 worked as Private Secretary to Sir Neville
Pearson, chairman of Newnes Publishing Company
Awarded the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry in 1966 and the Gold
Medal for Poetry in 1969
Died 7 March 1971
Stevie Smith (1902 - 1971)
The first work by Stevie Smith to be published was a collection
of six poems, which appeared in the New Statesman in 1935. Later
that year, she was advised to ‘go away and write a novel'. This she
did, using the yellow paper used at Pearson's for carbon copies.
The avant garde Novel on Yellow Paper or Work It Out For
Yourself was published in 1936 and was an instant success. Two
further novels followed, preceded by her first volume of poetry,
A Good Time Was Had By All, published in 1937.
Stevie's poetry was at first less successful than her novels had
been and during the late 1940s and early 1950s she was
comparatively neglected as a poet. However, following the
publication of her best known collection Not Waving But
Drowning in 1957 she became more widely known. Throughout the
1960s she was increasingly popular in Britain and America,
particularly for poetry readings and broadcasts and took delight in
reading and even singing her work before live audiences. Seven
volumes of her poetry were published between 1937 and 1971, with an
eighth published in 1972 after her death.
Northumberland House, from The
Stevie Smith's three novels are all autobiographical. Through them,
Stevie Smith shows us many of her opinions, preoccupations and
"thoughts that come and go". She warns the reader who has recently
purchased Novel on Yellow Paper that "if you are a
foot-on-the-ground person this book will be for you a desert of
weariness and exasperation. So put it down, leave it alone."
Stevie Smith's poetry is darkly comic in style. She was subject
to periods of depression during her life and was preoccupied with
death, but as a release or consolation. Her best-known poem ‘Not
waving but drowning' was written in 1953 and reveals her feelings
of sadness and isolation at this time. Her poetry has strong
underlying themes of love and death, it is whimsical but fiercely
honest and direct. She also loved drawing and linked her small
illustrations with her poems. However, Stevie's attachment to her
drawings was not always shared by publishers and she fought a long
battle during the 1950s to find a publisher willing to include her
drawings with her poetry. She then found a ‘dashing publisher',
Gaberbocchus (Jabberwocky in Latin) to publish an entire volume of
captioned drawings. Some Are More Human Than Others was
published in 1958; a notice in Art News and Review described it as
"a treasury to be treasured".
As one of the most distinctive of modern poets, Stevie Smith's
deeply personal work has endured and remains popular to this day.
On her death, The Times lauded her talent as "wholly
individual, unconventional, and unpredictable".