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Kingsley Amis Biography | Poet

Photo of Kingsley Amis

Sir Kingsley William Amis (April 16, 1922 – October 22, 1995) was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He was the father of the British novelist Martin Amis.

Kingsley Amis was born in London, educated at the City of London School and St. John's College, Oxford, where he met Philip Larkin, with whom Amis formed the most important friendship of his life. After serving in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Second World War, Amis completed university in 1947, and was a lecturer in English at the University of Wales Swansea (1948–61), and at Cambridge (1961–63), where he was a fellow of Peterhouse.

Amis achieved popular success with his first novel Lucky Jim, which is considered by many to be an exemplary novel of Fifties Britain. The novel won the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction and Amis was associated with the writers labelled Angry Young Men. Lucky Jim is a seminal work, the first English novel featuring an ordinary man as anti-hero. As a poet, Amis was associated with The Movement.

Like Philip Larkin, Amis was a keen jazz fan, with a particular enthusiasm for the American musicians Sidney Bechet, Henry "Red" Allen and Pee Wee Russell (about whom Amis and Larkin corresponded extensively -see 'The Letters of Kingsley Amis', edited by Zachery Leader, HarperCollins, 2000).

As a young man, Kingsley Amis was a vocal member of the Communist Party. He became disillusioned with Communism, breaking with it when the USSR invaded Hungary in 1956. Thereafter, Amis became stridently anti-communist, and conservative. He discusses his political change of heart in the essay "Why Lucky Jim Turned Right" (1967), and it percolates into later works such as his dystopian novel Russian Hide and Seek (1980).

Amis was an atheist and novels such as The Green Man and The Anti-Death League were in part wary speculations about the personality of a divine being and its relation to death and dying.

Amis's novel about a group of retired friends, The Old Devils, won the Booker Prize in 1986. He received a knighthood in 1990.

Amis was twice married, first in 1948 to Hilary Bardwell, then to novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, in 1965; they divorced in 1983. Amis spent his last years sharing the house of his first wife and her third husband. He had three children, including the novelist Martin Amis, who movingly wrote of his father's life and decline in his memoir Experience.

Kingsley Amis: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes