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English Literature

Stevie Smith: River God

Context

Florence Margaret 'Stevie' Smith (1902-1971) was born in Hull. After her father left home when she was three, she moved to London with her mother, sister and two aunts and lived there for the rest of her life. She got the nickname Stevie from a friend who said she rode a horse like the most famous jockey of her childhood, Steve Donoghue.

Smith attended high school and college before starting work as a secretary at a publishing house, which is when she began writing poems. Her first book was a novel that drew on her own experiences (especially of World War I) and was published in 1936. Her first book of poetry, A Good Time Was Had By All, was published the following year.

Smith made doodles and little sketches which were published alongside the poems and this artwork became a trademark.

Depression affected Smith throughout her life and after 30 years working at the publishing house she suffered a breakdown and retired. She continued to write poems and the writing was a mix of deep sadness and wry amusement, rather like Smith's own personal life. She was often preoccupied by death and religion but drew on fairy tales, nursery rhymes and legends in her work.

She died from a brain tumour in 1971.

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