Leader, Zachary 1946–

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Leader, Zachary 1946–


Born December 1, 1946, in New York, NY; son of Anton Morris (a film director and author) and Rosalinde (in business) Leader; married Alice Spencer Alwerter (a teacher), June 16, 1969; children: Nick, Max. Education: Northwestern University, B.A. (with honors), 1969; Trinity College, Cambridge, M.A. (first class), 1971; Harvard University, A.M., 1973, Ph.D., 1977. Politics: Democrat.


Home—London, England. Office—School of Arts, University of Surrey Roehampton, Roehampton Ln., London SW15 5PH, England. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator and writer. Roehampton University (previously known as University of Surrey Roehampton and Roehampton Institute of Higher Education), London, England, reader in English, beginning 1977, became professor of English literature, 1983. California Institute of Technology, visiting professor, 1991-93.


Woodrow Wilson fellow, 1969; Mellon fellow at Huntingdon Library, 1989 and 1991.



(With Ian Haywood) Romantic Period Writings, 1798-1832: An Anthology, Routledge (New York, NY), 1998.

The Letters of Kingsley Amis, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

On Modern British Fiction, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Michael O'Neill) Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Major Works, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.


Reading Blake's Songs, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1981.

Writer's Block, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1991.

Revision and Romantic Authorship, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Life of Kingsley Amis (biography), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including London Review of Books and Times Literary Supplement.


Zachary Leader is an American scholar who teaches English and modern languages at an English university. His professional interests include literary criticism and history, and his writing and edito- rial work have often focused on English writers of the Romantic and Modern periods. One of Leader's most notable books is Revision and Romantic Authorship, in which he challenges the idea that Romantic authors did not revise their works or collaborate with others because they valued a spontaneous, natural creative process. Leader also edited the widely reviewed book The Letters of Kingsley Amis, for which he was credited with careful scholarship in selecting and annotating some 1,200 pages of Amis's alternately humorous and shocking letters.

As Angela Leighton explained in a review of Revision and Romantic Authorship for the Times Literary Supplement, Romantic writers created a myth in which they insisted on "the supremacy of unpremeditated over reconsidered art, inspiration over composition, autonomy over co-operation." Leader examines the work of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, John Clare, and John Keats to show how in reality their works were indeed revised, either by the writer or by others. Wordsworth "revisited" poems later in life, while Coleridge revised poems when they were to be republished. Byron could not be bothered to clean up his own work, but often gave this assignment to others; Shelley welcomed her husband's changes to Frankenstein; and Clare apparently expected his editor John Taylor to finish poems for him. Leader also considers the lasting impact of the Romantic authorial myth on modern editorial attitudes.

Critics often named Leader's book as an important successor to Jack Stillinger's Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius, and found many other aspects of the book to recommend. Leighton described it as "enlightening, witty and provocative." Writing for Choice, N. Fruman called the subject "inherently fascinating, not only to students of literature but to anyone interested in the arts." "This is a rich, various book, wittily argumentative and independently minded," wrote Seamus Perry in the Review of English Studies. "Leader strives to imagine the human reality of his cases in an attractive and entirely plausible way too often missing in criticism with an avowedly ‘historicist’ agenda." In Modern Philology, Susan Eilenberg remarked that Leader's book "feels strangely unrevised, uneven, unfinished" but concluded that it is "valuable nonetheless, not only as a counterpoise to current editorial fashion, not only as a collection of sometimes winning essays, but also as a reminder of the unglamorously human realities of Romantic writing and the necessarily human obligations those realities impose on us." Terence Allan Hoagwood suggested in Criticism that Leader's book addresses pertinent issues: "Whether editors should reproduce altered texts of poems because authors wanted them to do so, and whether literary scholarship has a sciential function at all, or whether preference and an obsolete concept of ‘the self’ should determine the aims and methods of literary studies—these are extremely important questions."

Subsequently, Leader served with Ian Haywood as editor of Romantic Period Writings, 1798-1832: An Anthology. It contains a wide range of writings, which are divided into the categories of radical journalism, political economy, atheism, empire and race, nation and state, gender, and literary institutions. In the Times Literary Supplement, Nora Crook called it a "canon-widening" collaboration that was essentially a course book. Working with Michael O'Neill, Leader has also edited The Major Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, a collection of poetry and prose. Shelley's fame as a poet grew after his widow, Mary, edited his work for new publications. Times Literary Supplement critic Richard Cronin commented on the debt all editors of Shelley's work owe to Mary, and he judged Leader and O'Neill's preface to be "the best brief introductory essay on Shelley yet written."

Interest in The Letters of Kingsley Amis benefited from Leader's meticulous care in presenting the novelist's copious personal correspondence. Amis (1922-95) became an important literary figure when he published Lucky Jim in 1954 and joined the group of British writers known as the Angry Young Men. His letters are of interest because they share the humor and outrage of his novels; they also show Amis to be fiercely opinionated about literature, a frequently unfaithful husband, a devoted friend to poet Philip Larkin, and in the case of his son Martin, who is also a famous novelist, a more jealous than admiring father. Leader is a friend of Martin Amis and was chosen to edit his father's letters after the project was started by another editor.

Leader's selection of more than eight hundred letters was praised by critics. Atlantic Monthly contributor Geoffrey Wheatcroft, for one, called the book "a remarkable work of scholarly industry" despite his desire for "more explanatory detail." In the New York Times Book Review, Michael Lewis remarked that the whole work is "beautifully organized and annotated" and singled out the letters to Larkin as among "the funniest things Amis ever wrote…. [They] suffer less than you might think from being only one side of a long conversation. This is a measure both of their editor's skill and of the author's eye for his audience."

As editor of On Modern British Fiction, Leader collected essays by literary scholars and fiction writers that treat topics including modern historical fiction, "Lad lit," comic tradition, the Scottish novel, and American views of modern British fiction. Writing for the Spectator, Caroline Moore commented that the book "in general captures the rambling, freshly aired, bring-your-own-views, picnic format of a good conference." Stephen Wade was unsure what audience the book would appeal to, but he commented in the Contemporary Review that it was "a fascinating symposium ranging from artistic credos to revisionist perspectives." The difficulty of determining what is "modern" and "British" was noted by Lawrence Norfolk in a Times Literary Supplement review, but he happily concluded that "all the diverse writers gathered under the rubric of ‘Modern British Fiction’ are read by British readers, whose eclectic tastes appear untroubled by definitions."

Leader takes on Amis as a subject again in his almost one thousand-page biography of the British writer who was as well known for his weaknesses, namely sex and alcohol, as his literary accomplishments. In The Life of Kingsley Amis, Leader examines chronologically the life and works of Amis, and although he shows great reverence for the writer and his work "he does not hesitate to show Amis's less admirable traits," as Morris Hounion put it in his review of the book for Library Journal. Atlantic Monthly's Christopher Hitchens felt similarly: "Indeed, you couldn't have one Kingsley without the other, and Zachary Leader's wonderful book shows us both of them, as it illustrates the rival processes of composition and decomposition." A Publishers Weekly critic praised Leader's biography on Amis, noting that he "delivers a scrupulously researched and unfailingly entertaining account of the life of one of postwar Britain's funniest and most famous writers." In the biography, Amis "comes across as an awful and fascinating character—vicious, hilarious, pathetic," according to a critic for the Economist, who further added that Leader's "style and approach are unfussy and effective. His central claim, that Amis ‘was not only the finest British comic novelist of the second half of the 20th century but a dominant force in the writing of the age,’ stands up well enough." Some critics felt that while the biography was well done, it was too long, such as an Economist critic who wrote that the book's "only drawback is its length." However, other critics felt that the book's length was not an issue: "I ought to say that this book is 200 pages too long, but as I enjoyed almost every word of it, I can't," wrote Spectator, contributor Ferdinand Mount. "Elegantly organised, lovingly detailed, and—how could it not be?—eruptively funny, Zachary Leader's book is hard to put down," commended New Statesman critic Christopher Bray.



Atlantic Monthly, September, 2000, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, "Books—What Kingsley Can Teach Martin," p. 110; May, 2007, Christopher Hitchens, "One Fraught Englishman: The Turbulent Life of Kingsley Amis," p. 116.

Biography, spring, 2007, Ray Robertson, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis.

Books, April 22, 2007, William Pritchard, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 4.

Bookseller, November 24, 2006, "Nothing Amis: Zachary Leader's Aim Is True with Biography," p. 38.

Book World, April 15, 2007, Jonathan Yardley, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 15.

Bulletin with Newsweek, January 16, 2007, Anne Susskind, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 71.

Choice, July, 1997, N. Fruman, review of Revision and Romantic Authorship, p. 1801.

Comparative Literature Studies, summer, 1994, Robert Rehder, review of Writer's Block.

Contemporary Review, August, 2003, Stephen Wade, "Fiction in Modern Britain," p. 113.

Criticism, fall, 1997, Terence Allan Hoagwood, review of Revision and Romantic Authorship, p. 617.

Economist, April 21, 2007, "Booze and Birds; Kingsley Amis," p. 96.

Essays in Criticism, January, 1992, Derek Russell Davis, review of Writer's Block, p. 56.

Guardian (London, England), November 18, 2006, Andrew Motion, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis.

Journal of English and German Philology, July, 1998, Mark Jones, review of Revision and Romantic Authorship, p. 450.

Library Journal, March 1, 1991, Terry McMaster, review of Writer's Block, p. 104; April 15, 2007, Morris Hounion, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 89.

London Review of Books, December 14, 2006, "Do You Think He Didn't Know?," p. 28.

Modern Language Review, October, 1993, Jeremy Tambling, review of Writer's Block, p. 927; July, 2004, Julie Mullaney, review of On Modern British Fiction, p. 764.

Modern Philology, November, 1999, Susan Eilenberg, review of Revision and Romantic Authorship, p. 289.

National Post, February 3, 2007, Kildare Dobbs, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 11.

National Review, April 30, 2007, David Pryce-Jones, "Wild Child," p. 51.

New Republic, May 21, 2007, "Drink and the Old Devil," p. 55.

New Statesman, December 4, 2006, Christopher Bray, "Naughty but Nice," p. 56.

New Statesman & Society, February 15, 1991, Lucasta Miller, review of Writer's Block, p. 46.

New York Times Book Review, January 13, 2002, Michael Lewis, "The Old Devil," p. 12; June 3, 2007, A.O. Scott, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 36L.

Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2007, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 76.

Review of English Studies, February, 1998, Seamus Perry, review of Revision and Romantic Authorship, p. 93.

Sewanee Review, summer, 1993, Ashley Brown, review of Writer's Block.

Spectator, October 19, 2002, Caroline Moore, review of On Modern British Fiction, p. 56; November 11, 2006, Ferdinand Mount, "The Monster We Hate to Love."

Studies in Romanticism, summer, 1994, Thomas R. Frosch, review of Writer's Block.

Studies in the Novel, spring, 2005, Jeffrey Meyers, review of On Modern British Fiction.

Times Higher Education Supplement, January 26, 2007, Anthony Hopwood, review of The Life of Kingsley Amis, p. 24.

Times Literary Supplement, January 11, 1991, Claire Harman, "All the Hell of an Author," p. 4; August 2, 1996, Angela Leighton, "Visions Revised," p. 5; March 5, 1999, Nora Crook, review of Romantic Period Writings, 1798-1832: An Anthology, p. 26; February 14, 2003, Lawrence Norfolk, review of On Modern British Fiction, p. 28; October 3, 2003, Richard Cronin, "Shelley's Pirates," p 12; February 2, 2007, "Public Accounts: Obsession with Kingsley Amis's Private Life Has Distorted Appreciation of His Work," p. 3.

Weekly Standard, June 11, 2007, Michael Weiss, "Man of Letters; Kingsley Amis, the Laureate in Prose of Postwar Britain."

Wilson Library Bulletin, June, 1991, Ben Davis, review of Writer's Block, p. 144.