Tony Harrison is Britain's leading film and theatre poet. He has written for the National Theatre in London, the New York Metropolitan Opera and for the BBC and Channel 4 television. He was born in Leeds, England in 1937 and was educated at Leeds Grammar School and Leeds University, where he read Classics and took a diploma in Linguistics.
He became the first Northern Arts Literary Fellow (1967-68), a post he held again in 1976-77, and was resident dramatist at the National Theatre (1977-78). His work there included adaptations of Molière's The Misanthrope and Racine's Phaedra Britannica.
His first collection of poems, The Loiners (1970), was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1972, and his acclaimed version of Aeschylus's The Oresteia (1981) won him the first European Poetry Translation Prize in 1983. Bloodaxe published his Dramatic Verse 1973-1985 in hardback in 1985, with a paperback following from Penguin under the title Theatre Works 1973-1985.
He published several poetry titles with Bloodaxe, including A Kumquat for John Keats (1981), U.S. Martial (1981), v. (1985/1989), The Fire-Gap (1985), A Cold Coming (1991), The Gaze of the Gorgon (1992) and Permanently Bard: Selected Poetry (1995). The Gaze of the Gorgon (1992) won the Whitbread Poetry Award. Neil Astley's critical anthology Tony Harrison (1991) included several essays and texts collected or published there for the first time.
Harrison's adaptation of the English Medieval Mystery Plays cycle was first performed at the National Theatre in 1985. Many of his plays have been staged away from conventional auditoria: The Trackers of Oxyrhyncus was premièred at the ancient stadium at Delphi in 1988; Poetry or Bust was first performed at Salts Mill, Saltaire in Yorkshire in 1993; The Kaisers of Carnuntum premiered at the ancient Roman amphitheatre at Carnuntum in Austria; and The Labours of Herakles was performed on the site of the new theatre at Delphi in Greece in 1995. His translation of Victor Hugo's The Prince's Play was performed at the National Theatre in 1996.
His films using verse narrative include v., broadcast by Channel 4 television in 1987 and winner of a Royal Television Society Award; Black Daisies for the Bride, winner of the Prix Italia in 1994; and The Blasphemers' Banquet, screened by the BBC in 1989, an attack on censorship inspired by the Salman Rushdie affair. He co-directed A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan for Channel 4 in 1994 and directed, wrote and narrated The Shadow of Hiroshima, screened by Channel 4 in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb. The published text, The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems (Faber, 1995), won the Heinemann Award in 1996. He wrote and directed his first feature film Prometheus in 1998. In 1995 he was commissioned by The Guardian newspaper to visit Bosnia and write poems about the war.
His most recent poetry collection, Under the Clock (Penguin, 2005), was followed by Collected Poems (Viking, 2007) and Collected Film Poetry (Faber, 2007). His latest book is Fram (Faber, 2008), a work for theatre premièred at the National Theatre in 2007. He received the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2015.
Tony Harrison lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Books by Tony Harrison