Al Alvarez (born 5 August 1929) is an English poet, novelist, essayist and critic who publishes under the name A. Alvarez and Al Alvarez.
Alfred Alvarez was born in London. He was educated at The Hall School in Hampstead, London, and then Oundle School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he took a First in English. After teaching briefly in Oxford and the USA, he became a full-time writer in his late twenties. From 1956 to 1966, he was the poetry editor and critic for The Observer, where he introduced British readers to John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Zbigniew Herbert, and Miroslav Holub.
Alvarez is the author of many non-fiction books. He is best known for his study of suicide, The Savage God, which gained added resonance from his friendship with Plath. He has also written on divorce (Life After Marriage), dreams (Night), and the oil industry (Offshore), as well as his hobbies of poker (The Biggest Game In Town) and mountaineering (Feeding the Rat, a profile of his frequent climbing partner Mo Anthoine). His 1999 autobiography is entitled Where Did It All Go Right?
His 1962 poetry anthology The New Poetry was hailed at the time as a fresh departure. It championed the American style, in relation to the perceived excessive 'gentility' of British poetry of the time. In 2010 he was awarded the A.C.Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature.
Portrayals in film and literature
Alvarez was portrayed by Jared Harris in the 2003 film Sylvia, which chronicles the troubled relationship between Plath and her husband Ted Hughes.
He also appears under his own name in the book "Spying On Strange Men" by Carole Morin:
"After driving for about 30 seconds, she parked her large vehicle in Flask Walk outside the writer Al Alvarezâs house. The last man known to whiff Sylvia Plathâs hair, as she ascended the stairs ahead of him a few days before suiciding.
"âWait here,â the witch told me, locking me in the truck.
"Alvarez, who describes himself as a poker player who writes as a hobby, understands risk. Art and risk go hand in hand. Do I know him well enough to phone him and say, âIâm locked in a witchâs truck out- side your door and I think sheâs going to murder me.â
"And what could ancient Al do anyway? I doubt if he misspent his youth breaking into cars, he was too busy plotting suicide. He doesnât look the type to sledgehammer a windscreen, allowing me to crawl out."
- The Shaping Spirit (1958)
- The School of Donne (1961)
- The New Poetry' (1962)
- Under Pressure (1965)
- Beyond All This Fiddle (1968)
- The Savage God (1972)
- Beckett (Fontana Modern Masters, 1973)
- Hers (1974)
- Hunt (1979)
- Life After Marriage (1982)
- The Biggest Game in Town (1983)
- Feeding the Rat (1989)
- Day of Atonement (1991)
- Night (1995)
- Where Did It All Go Right? (1999)
- Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats (2001)
- New & Selected Poems (2002)
- The Writer's Voice (2005)
- Risky Business (2007)
- Pondlife (2013)
- Confessional poetry
- List of British Jews
- Book Review of 'The Biggest Game In Town'