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Lewis, Gwyneth 1959-

LEWIS, Gwyneth 1959-


Born November 4, 1959, in Cardiff, Wales; married Leighton Denver Davies, 1993. Education: Girton College, Cambridge, B.A., 1982; attended Harvard University, 1982-83, and Columbia University, 1983-84; Balliol College, Oxford, Ph.D., 1989.


Home—Penylan, Cardiff, Wales. Agent—Zoe Waldie, Rogers, Coleridge & White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.


Welsh-language editor for Poetry Wales, 1980-82; Partisan Review, Boston, MA, poetry reader, 1982-83; Paris Review, New York, NY, poetry reader, 1983-84; freelance book reviewer and correspondent, 1983-88; from researcher and script writer to assistant producer of program Agenda, 1989-91; British Broadcasting Corp. Wales, assistant producer of religious programs, 1992-93, producer of factual programs, 1993-95, chief assistant to the controller, beginning 1997; currently freelance writer; Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, poet in residence, 2005. Guest lecturer in writing program, Columbia University, 1995.


Royal Society of Literature (fellow), Welsh Academy.


Laurie Hart Prize, Girton College, for outstanding intellectual work; Urdd National Eisteddfod literature medals, 1976, 1977; Charity Reeves Prize, 1982; Gertrude Harley Prize for poetry, 1986-88; Major Eric Gregory award for young poets, 1988; British Association of Film and Television Actors award for best feature program, 1994, for Close the Coalhouse Door; Oxford University Prize, 1995, for English poem on a sacred subject; Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, 1995, and Welsh Arts Council Book of the Year Prize, 1996, both for Parables & Faxes; Poetry Book Society recommended book, c. 1998, for Zero Gravity; Welsh Arts Council Book of the Year Prize, 2000, for Y llofrudd iaith; National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts fellow, 2001; named one of the "Next Generation" poets, Poetry Book Society, 2004; honorary fellow, Cardiff University, 2005; named Wales's National Poet, 2005-06; Harkness fellow; named Cil-y-cwm's Community Poet.


Llwybrau bywyd (pamphlet), Urdd Gobaith Cymru (Aberstwyth, Wales), 1977.

Ar y groesffordd (pamphlet), Urdd Gobaith Cymru (Aberstwyth, Wales), 1978.

Sonedau redsa a cherddi eraill, Gwasg Gomer (Cardiff, Wales), 1990.

Parables & Faxes (poems; also see below), Bloodaxe Books (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), 1995.

Cyfrif un ac un yn dri (poems; title means "One and One Makes Three"), Barddas (Felindre, Abertawe, Wales), 1996.

Zero Gravity (also see below), Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 1998.

Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression, Flamingo (London, England), 2002.

Keeping Mum (poems; updated and translated edition of Y llofrudd iaith; title means "The Language Murderer"; also see below), Bloodaxe Books (Tarset, Northumberland, England), 2003.

Chaotic Angels: Poems in English (contains Parables & Faxes, Keeping Mum, and Zero Gravity), Bloodaxe Books (Tarset, Northumberland, England), 2005.

Two in a Boat: A Marital Voyage, Fourth Estate (New York, NY), 2005, published as Two in a Boat: The True Story of a Marital Rite of Passage, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of libretto Redflight/Barcud, music by Richard Chew, produced by the Welsh National Opera; and oratorio The Most Beautiful Man from the Sea, music by Richard Chew and Orlando Gough, produced as the Wales Millennium Centre.


Zero Gravity was adapted as a BBC documentary.


Named Wales's National Poet—the first person to receive the honor—in 2005, Gwyneth Lewis is recognized as an accomplished poet who writes in both English and Welsh. Many of her verses, as a Contemporary Women Poets essayist explained, form an unusual combination of "contemporary life with Biblical incidents and lessons." The essayist added: "This method of updating, mixing the 'good news' of the gospel with the six o'clock news, often is the very point of her comparison, providing its conceptual occasion, and informing her style." Although the critic noted that Lewis does not employ the typical pattern of stanzas used in traditional Welsh verses, the poet is influenced by the Welsh "cynghanedd" style of putting consonants at certain points in her lines, and she also relies heavily on assonance and a rhythm reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins or Dylan Thomas. Since Lewis is a Christian poet, her poems often carry messages addressing Christ's resurrection and the apocalypse; at the same time, however, her poetry used a good dose of humor.

After working for a number of poetry journals, Lewis started a successful career with the British Broadcasting Corporation in Wales. But her fast-paced life in television eventually had a personal cost, and Lewis found herself sinking into depression. She writes about this in her autobiographical Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression, and of her unusual approach to recovery in Two in a Boat: The True Story of a Marital Rite of Passage. Despite its subtitle, Sunbathing in the Rain does not make a joke out of depression, but the author does make the atypical point that depression can serve as a wake-up call for a person to change his or her life. Caroline Moorehead, writing in the Spectator, asserted that this tactic results in "encouraging reading."

In addition to changing her work habits and taking antidepressant medication to alleviate her depression, Lewis one day consulted a fortune teller about her illness and was advised to buy a boat and sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. Taking the advice to heart, she convinced her husband buy a yacht and the two of them set out to sea. Although her husband was once in the merchant navy, both of them were inexperienced at piloting their own vessel. Poor weather, engine problems, and other challenges resulted in their excursion ending in Morocco, with both their nerves frayed after many heated arguments. The book ends on a morose note with her husband learning he has cancer. The voyage becomes an allegory for Lewis's rocky marriage. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that this allegorical approach "can wear thin, but her poetic talent shines through" in the "charming" memoir. Also remarking on the author's use of the sea voyage to comment on her marriage, Peter Nichols concluded in the Guardian that Lewis "is earnest rather than subtle about this, illustrating her story with numerous well-observed analogies between boats and marriage and knots and couples, but it all works."



Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Lewis, Gwyneth, Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression, Flamingo (London, England), 2002.

Lewis, Gwyneth, Two in a Boat: The True Story of a Marital Rite of Passage, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.


Guardian (London, England), May 21, 2005, "Swept Away," Peter Nichols, review of Two in a Boat.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2006, review of Twoina Boat, p. 123.

Library Journal, March 1, 2006, Melissa Stearns, review of Two in a Boat, p. 108.

Publishers Weekly, February 13, 2006, review of Two in a Boat, p. 77.

Spectator, April 27, 2002, Caroline Moorehead, "A Friend to Recognise," review of Sunbathing in the Rain, p. 40.


Gwyneth Lewis Home Page, (October 2, 2006).*

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