Florence Margaret Smith, who later came to be known as Stevie Smith, was born in Kingston upon Hull, England in September of 1902. She was one of two daughters born to parents Ethel and Charles. The marriage between Smith’s parents was not a strong one and her father left his family and was rarely heard from or seen by his daughters.
When Smith was only three, her mother moved the two sisters to North London. After a period of time Smith’s mother fell ill and her Aunt, Madge Spear, came to help raise the her and her sister. Spear, along with the other women in Smith’s life, were extremely influential on her development of a feminist identity. When Smith was still young, only five years old, she contracted tubercular peritonitis and was sent to live in Kent at a sanatorium for three years. She was traumatized by the separation from her family and overcome by a new fear of death. These were concepts that often made their way into her later poetry.
As a young woman, Stevie Smith was sent to be educated at Palmers Green High School and later, North London Collegiate School for Girls. After spending these brief periods away from her family she moved back home and worked as a private secretary. Although she spent the entirety of her life in North London, she did manage to maintain correspondences with a number of other artistic types, such as Isobel English and Sally Chilver.
It was in 1936 that the first of her three short novels was published, titled Novel on Yellow Paper. Her second, Over the Frontier, followed two years later. It was a dismissed by the writer as being an experiment in various techniques that she saw as failures. Smith’s third novel was not released until 1949 and was titled, The Holiday. This was the work that Smith held in the highest esteem.
Her poetic works were first published in 1937 with the collection, A Good Time Was Had By All. This work was followed by a number of other collections, such as, Mother, What Is Man?, The Frog Prince, and Two in One. Her best-known work today is the poem, ‘Not Waving but Drowning.’ In 1966 Smith was awarded the Cholmondeley Awards for Poets and then later the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.
Stevie Smith died at the age of 68 in March of 1971.