Controversial author of 'Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life' comes to ASU

Sir Jonathan Bate to deliver Provost’s Distinguished Lecture

portrait of Sir Jonathan Bate

Sir Jonathan Bate is fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature. He is a governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, broadcasts regularly for the BBC, writes for the Guardian, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and has held visiting posts at Yale and UCLA. He comes to ASU on Nov. 23 to talk about “Ted Hughes: Eco-Warrior, or Eco-Worrier?”


British biographer and scholar Sir Jonathan Bate comes to ASU on Nov. 23 to talk about “Ted Hughes: Eco-Warrior, or Eco-Worrier?”

Bate is a biographer, critic, broadcaster and scholar. Provost of Worcester College and professor of English literature at University of Oxford, Bate is also a prominent Shakespearean with research interests that range from Renaissance literature to ecocriticism, contemporary poetry and theatre history. His newest publication, “Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life,” explores the life of Ted Hughes, one of England’s most prominent poets, an avid environmentalist and estranged husband of poet Sylvia Plath. The book has garnered high praise and is shortlisted for the U.K.’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for 2015.

“As early as the 1990s, Sir Jonathan Bate emerged as a leading proponent of the now quite apparent and growing alliance between the environmental and human arts and sciences and his work both points to and cultivates the ability to know precisely how and where one dwells in the world as the first task of ecological thought,” said Mark Lussier, professor and chair of ASU’s Department of English.

The Hughes biography has also generated more than a little controversy in Bate’s home country. Despite drawing extensively from Hughes’ work and diary, as well as archives and documents in the Hughes’ estate, Bate lost the cooperation of the estate, the copyright holder, just prior to publication.

Undeterred, Bate’s “unauthorized” literary biography becomes not just a story about Hughes and his passions for the environment, poetry and Plath, but also a cautionary tale about the challenges of writing about public figures and their pursuits. The event will be hosted at 6 p.m. on Nov. 23 in the Carson Ballroom of Old Main on the Tempe campus. The lecture is free of charge and open to the public, but RSVPs are appreciated. 

Sir Jonathan Bate's book "Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life."

Bate was knighted in 2015 for his service to higher education. In an interview published in British Academy Review in 2014, Bate observed: “One of the reasons for studying the humanities is precisely that the humanities draw our attention to big, valuable, important things that cannot be contained or constrained within a model of economic benefit. Beauty, truth – these are difficult, abstract concepts, concepts that defy quantification.”

“Humanities is about the human experience past, present and future. Sometimes the breadth and understanding of what humanists do get buried in the painstaking research on seemingly narrow topics pursued by our world-leading faculty,” said George Justice, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and associate vice president for humanities and the arts in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “The speakers coming to ASU to deliver provost’s distinguished lectures broaden our range of thinking, synthesize broad research areas and tackle major issues in research. They invigorate our scholarly community, and we find meaning in our lives through the works of culture that humanists preserve for humanity.”

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