Thom Gunn

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Thom Gunn
Thom Gunn (Thomson William Gunn, 1929–2004), born , was a poet. After relocating from England to San Francisco, Gunn wrote about gay-related topics—particularly in his most famous work, The Man With Night Sweats in 1992 — as well as drug use, sex and his bohemian lifestyle. He won major literary awards.

Gunn was born in Gravesend, the son of the newspaper editor Bert Gunn. Both his parents were journalists. They divorced when he was 10 years old. When he was a teenager his mother killed herself. It was she who had sparked in him a love of reading, including an interest in the work of Christopher Marlowe, John Keats, John Milton, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, along with several prose writers. In his youth, he attended University College School in Hampstead, then spent two years in the national service and six months in Paris. Later, he studied English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduated in 1953, and published his first collection of verse, Fighting Terms, the following year. Among several critics who praised the work, John Press wrote, "This is one of the few volumes of postwar verse that all serious readers of poetry need to possess and to study."[1]

As a young man, he wrote poetry associated with The Movement and, later, with the work of Ted Hughes. Gunn's poetry, together with that of Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, and other members of The Movement, has been described as "...emphasizing purity of diction and a neutral tone...encouraging a more spare language and a desire to represent a seeing of the world with fresh eyes."[2][3]

In 1954, Gunn emigrated to the United States to teach writing at Stanford University and to remain close to his partner, Mike Kitay, whom he had met while at college. Gunn taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1958 to 1966 and again from 1973 to 2000.[4] He was "an early fan" of the radical gay sex documentary zine Straight to Hell.[5]

In 2004, he died of acute polysubstance abuse, including methamphetamine, at his home in the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood in San Francisco, where he had lived since 1960.[6]


Based on a Wikipedia article.

  1. Web page titled "Thom Gunn" at the website of the Academy of American Poets.
  2. Norton Anthology of English Literature
  3. Norton Anthology of English Literature
  4. Web page titled "In Memoriam, Thomson Gunn".
  5. Reed Woodhouse, Unlimited Embrace: A Canon of Gay Fiction, 1945–1995, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998, ISBN|1558491325, page 64.
  6. Biespiel, David, "A Poet's Life Part Two", San Francisco Chronicle, 26 April 2005.