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The Letters of Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn; Selected and Edited by Michael Nott, August Kleinzahler, and Clive Wilmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Letters of Thom Gunn Download image

ISBN10: 0374605696
ISBN13: 9780374605698


800 Pages



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"I write about love, I write about friendship," remarked Thom Gunn: "I find that they are absolutely intertwined." These core values permeate his correspondence with friends, family, lovers, and fellow poets, and shed new light on "one of the most singular and compelling poets in English during the past half-century" (Hugh Haughton, The Times Literary Supplement).

The Letters of Thom Gunn, edited by August Kleinzahler, Michael Nott, and Clive Wilmer, reveals the evolution of Gunn's work and illuminates the fascinating life that informed his poems: his struggle to come to terms with his mother’s suicide; his changing relationship with his life partner, Mike Kitay; the LSD trips that led to his celebrated collection Moly (1971); and the deaths of friends from AIDS that inspired the powerful, unsparing elegies of The Man with Night Sweats (1992).


Praise for The Letters of Thom Gunn

“Rowdy, funny, filthy, intensely literate letters . . . These letters have been anticipated, by many, because [Gunn] rarely spilled his guts on the page. There’s been no biography. These letters are what we have, and they don’t disappoint . . . This book, like Gunn’s life, puts an unusual mix of pleasures on display.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

“A poet of great wit and style, Thom Gunn was also a lyrical portraitist, which is especially evident in his recently collected letters . . . These letters vastly increase our understanding of his painstaking compositional processes . . . One is struck by his startling lack of hubris or defensiveness—his openness, even late in his career, to advice and criticism.”—Mark Ford, The New York Review of Books

"Impeccably curated and crafted by a distinguished trio of fellow poets and scholars, this selection of missives by poet Thom Gunn establishes the literary artist as an enormously talented and creative powerhouse. Through his letters, readers will garner a new appreciation for Gunn through his craft and work with other poets, his personal interactions, his sexuality as a gay man in the era of AIDS, and his overall life."—Jim Piechota, The Bay Area Reporter

"Absorbing reading . . . we have Gunn's thoughts on everything from pornography to poststructuralism, and his delight at being the soul of indiscretion . . . Reading what Gunn didn’t choose to show to the public, and knowing what he did, it becomes clear how personal a writer he is . . . The correspondence throws new light on his work by allowing us to see things other than his notorious coolness."—Matthew Bevis, Harper's Magazine

"Fascinating glimpses into the way a first-rate poet managed to keep a precarious gift at the center of his life, while also fully living that life."—Nate Klug, The Threepenny Review

"Meticulously edited, introduced, and annotated by literary scholar Nott and poets Kleinzahler and Wilmer, this commodious selection vibrantly portrays the acclaimed British poet Gunn . . . sure to please any fan of literary biography."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Gunn's letters are a testament to his vitality and enthusiasm for a cornucopia of experiences embraced with gusto and eloquently shared."Booklist (starred review)

"Filled with powerful takes on [Gunn's] creative process, interpersonal relationships, and day-to-day life . . . The editors’ footnotes are illustrative rather than intrusive, and the robust collection is packed with life and vigor. This should help bring Gunn and his work to a new generation of readers."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Early 19392

[110 Frognal,


London NW3]3


Dear Father,

Thank-you for the lovely toy theatre, we have played with it from early morn till sunset.



About the author

Thom Gunn; Selected and Edited by Michael Nott, August Kleinzahler, and Clive Wilmer

Thom Gunn (1929–2004) was educated at Cambridge University and wrote his first collection of poems, Fighting Terms (1954), while he was still an undergraduate. He moved to Northern California in 1954 and taught at American universities until his death. His last collection was Boss Cupid (FSG, 2000).

August Kleinzahler
is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry and three collections of essays. He lives in San Francisco and was a close friend and neighbor of Thom Gunn’s for more than twenty years.

Michael Nott is the author of Photopoetry, 1845–2015: A Critical History (2018). He was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and a postdoctoral fellow at University College Cork.

Clive Wilmer, who first met Thom Gunn in 1964, is the author of over half a dozen books of poetry, including New and Collected Poems (2012). He edited Gunn’s first collection of essays, The Occasions of Poetry (1982), and his New Selected Poems (2018). He is an emeritus fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

© Ander Gunn

Thom Gunn

Michael Nott

Thom Gunn at the Poetry Foundation