Florence Margaret (Stevie) Smith was born on 20 September 1902 at 34 Delapole Avenue, Hull, Yorkshire. She was the daughter of Ethel Rahel and Charles Ward Smith. Her father left home for the merchant navy when his shipping business collapsed in 1906, leaving young Smith, her elder sister and mother to live off the inheritance provided by her maternal grandfather. The three women moved to Palmers Green, a hamlet on the north edge of London. Their house at 1 Avondale Road would become Stevie Smith's lifelong residence that she would come to share with her beloved aunt after her mother's death in 1919.
Smith was a sickly child who nearly died in infancy and developed tubercular peritonitis when she was five years old. After spending three years at a sanatorium for the treatment of her illness, she enrolled in Palmers Green high school and at the North London Collegiate School. Smith opted out of attending university, partially due to a lack of funds and partially because she did not wish to become a school teacher, virtually the only career choice for women at the time. Instead, she was trained at Mrs Hoster's prestigious secretarial academy. In 1922, she entered the firm of C. Arthur Pearson, where she was appointed personal secretary to Sir Neville Pearson. Although her secretarial work seemed undemanding at times, it gave Smith enough leisure time for extensive reading and writing.
Although her first collection of poems was rejected by the literary agent Curtis Brown in 1934, her first novel, Novel on Yellow Paper, was published in 1936 to great success. A year later, she managed to publish her first book of poems A Good Time was Had by All, which like all subsequent poetry collections, was illustrated with her own line drawings. Tender Only to One (1938) was equally well received, but Mother, what is Man? (1942) was less successful and the publication of her next novel, The Holiday (1949) was delayed by six years. During the 1940s and early 1950s, Smith's writing fell out of fashion; between 1953 and 1955 Punch was virtually the only periodical that would accept her work, despite the fact that she was writing some of her finest poetry during this period. In 1953, she became clinically depressed and was retired on medical advise from the company, now known as Newnes.
After her retirement, Smith spent several years as a reviewer for various periodicals, before publishing two successful collections of poetry entitled Not Waving but Drowning (1957) and The Frog Prince (1966). Her reputation once again increased, and during the 1960s she became a notable performer at poetry readings where she often performed alongside the Liverpool 'pop' poets to enthusiastic crowds. During this time, Smith was also receiving formal recognition for her writing. She was the recipient of the Cholmondeley award in 1966 and she was awarded the queen's gold medal for poetry in 1969.
Toward the end of 1970, Stevie Smith became ill with a brain tumour and she passed away several months later on 7 March, 1971 at Ashburton Cottage Hospital, Devon. Her final collection, Scorpion and other Poems appeared posthumously in 1972.
- Montefiore, Janet. "Smith, Florence Margaret [Stevie] (1902–1971)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004.
- Smith, Stevie. A Good Time Was Had by All. London: J. Cape, 1937.
- --. Tender Only to One. London: J. Cape, 1938.
- --. Mother, What is Man?. London: J. Cape, 1942.
- --. Harold's Leap. London: Chapman and Hall, 1950. PR 6037.M43 H3 Robarts Library
- --. Not Waving but Drowning. London: Deutsch, 1957.
- --. Selected Poems. London: Longmans, 1962, New York: New Directions, 1964.
- --. The Frog Prince and Other Poems. London: Longmans, 1966. PR 6037.M43 F7 Robarts Library
- -- (With Edwin Brock and Geoffrey Hill). Penguin Modern Poets 8. London: Penguin, 1966.
- --. The Best Beast. New York: Knopf, 1969. PR6037.M43 A6 1969 University of Toronto Libraries at Downsview
- --. Two in One (includes Selected Poems and The Frog Prince and Other Poems). London: Longman, 1971.
- --. Scorpion and Other Poems. London: Longman, 1972. PR 6037.M43 S3 Robarts Library
- --. Collected Poems. London: A. Lane, 1975. PR 6037.M37 A17 1975 St. Michael's College (John M. Kelly Library); University of Toronto Libraries at Downsview
- --. New Selected Poems of Stevie Smith. New York: New Directions, 1988. PR 6037.M43 A6 1988 Robarts Library