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A life in words - Geoffrey Hill's archive comes to Leeds

The University of Leeds has acquired the archive of Geoffrey Hill, the acclaimed poet widely regarded as one of the most important writers in the English language today.

The remarkable collection includes some 70 notebooks of poetry, other drafts of prose and poems, letters and lecture notes from an academic career which included a 26-year spell at the University of Leeds during which he wrote and published much of his most-admired work.

Most items have not been seen by the public before, and their arrival at Leeds will provide fresh impetus for academic study of the life and career of a man who has been described as 'the strongest and most original English poet' of the second half of the twentieth century. (1)
His work includes King Log, Mercian Hymns, Tenebrae and Without Title and is characterised by its rigour, scrupulousness, formal intensity and engagement with history.

Hill's choice of the University of Leeds as the home for his archive reflects his affection for the University which gave him his first academic post on graduating from the University of Oxford in 1953.  Hill was a member of staff at Leeds from 1954 to 1980, latterly as Professor of English Literature, and during this period he wrote and published much of the poetry which secures his international reputation.

After leaving Leeds, he was a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge from 1981 to 1989 before going on to Boston University, Massachusetts, where he became founding co-director of the Editorial Institute. He received an honorary doctorate from Leeds in 1988
Hill said: "I arrived at Leeds as an untried, indeed gauche, 22 year old assistant lecturer to join Bonamy Dobrée's splendid Department of English Literature, where my senior colleagues included the renowned G. Wilson Knight and Arnold Kettle and, closer to my own heart, the Coleridge scholar Peter Mann. John-Heath-Stubbs was the Gregory Fellow and the now celebrated student poetry weekly Poetry and Audience was already flourishing.

"I owe these early mentors and the University a debt of gratitude for educating me into the disciplines of scholarship and teaching, a debt which I acknowledge on the dedication-page of my Collected Critical Writings (2008)."
Hill has been established as a poet of international repute since the 1970s, supported by admirers including the leading American critic Harold Bloom, Christopher Ricks, the foremost British literary critic of his generation, the prominent intellectual Professor George Steiner and a number of contemporary poets.

His archive is an exceptional research and teaching resource and its arrival reflects the University of Leeds' status as a world-leading centre of excellence in English literature and the reputation of its Library and Special Collections, where the archive will be kept. The University has appointed a literary archivist for the specific purpose of cataloguing the archive, an initiative following the model of the British Library's recent engagement of an archivist to work with its new archive of Ted Hughes.

Hill's poetry notebooks are at the heart of the collection, tracing the evolution of some of his most eminent and important works over more than 40 years. Letters from Allen Tate, RS Thomas, Ted Hughes, Tony Harrison and other famous writers are included, together with recordings of Hill's readings, copies of his books and periodical publications.

The many boxes of files relating to the decades Hill spent teaching are also of particular interest as he kept written versions of the lectures he gave on a wide range of topics in English literature throughout his academic career. The archive also includes professional correspondence, notes for readings, clipped articles, his public lectures and drafts of prose.

The collection will form a unique feature of the proposed Leeds Poetry Centre. Leeds University Library holds extensive archives of poets working at or connected to the University.

The University of Leeds has traditionally supported the arts through programmes such as the Gregory Fellows, which ran between 1950 and 1980 and provided financial support by way of fellowships for creative artists in painting, sculpture, poetry and music. Former fellows in poetry with large archives in the Library include Jon Silkin, founder of Stand magazine, and the award-winning poet and novelist Kevin Crossley-Holland,

The University also has collections of works by a number of student writers, many of whom have now established national and international reputations. Tony Harrison and the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka are among the best-known.

Chris Sheppard, Head of Special Collections at the University of Leeds, said: "Geoffrey Hill is a towering figure in the University's extraordinary literary history. We are immensely proud of our connection with him which is permanently cemented by receiving his archive. It offers a uniquely detailed and vivid insight into the creation of some of the most profound poetry written in our time."

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

Notes to editors:

1. "Geoffrey Hill may be the strongest and most original English poet of the second half of our fading century, although his work is by no means either easy or very popular. Dense, intricate, exceedingly compact, his poetry has always had great visionary force." - John Hollander, The Los Angeles Times (20.9.1998)

2. The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries and a turnover of £450m. The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities and the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed it to be among the top UK research powerhouses. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

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