Biography and History

Nanos Valaōritēs was born on July 4, 1921 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to Greek parents Kōnstantinos and Aikaterinē (Leōnida) Valaōritēs. He spent his youth in Greece, and following a family tradition -- he was the great-grandson of the Greek poet Aristotelēs Valaōritēs -- would later become an internationally known post-surrealist poet.

Valaōritēs's first published poems appeared in the Greek review Ta Nea Grammata in 1939. His higher education included studying law, literature, and languages at the universities of Athens, London, and Paris. In 1944 he leaves Greece and from 1944 to 1953 he lives in London. The violence of World War II was a strong influence on Valaōritēs's early writing; Hē timōria tōn magōn [ The Punishment of the Magicians] (1947), his first published collection of poems, includes graphic war imagery. During the 1940s, he translated writings by George Seferis and Odysseas Elytēs, for British reviews and, in collaboration with Bernard Spencer and Lawrence Durrell, produced the first book of modernist Greek poetry in translation, The King of Asine (1948) by George Seferis.

Valaōritēs married Anne Firth, an actress known by her stage name Anne Valery, in 1947. Together they had a son, Daniēl-Kōnstantinos, who suffered an accident and died young. The couple later divorced.

While in Athens, 1940-1944, Valaōritēs was strongly influenced by the Greek surrealist group. During his years in Paris in the 1950s, and through his friendship with Marie Wilson, an American painter, Valaōritēs became involved with the French surrealists under the guidance of André Breton. The influence of the surrealists on Valaōritēs's work marked a shift from pessimistic war poems to more optimistic themes and images.

Nineteen fifty-nine was a prolific year for Valaōritēs: His plays Nightfall Hotel [L'hotel de la nuit qui tombe] was produced in Paris, and The Log was produced in both Athens and Denmark; in addition, his collaboration with Marie Wilson, Terre de diamant [Diamond Land], was privately printed in Athens.

In 1960, Valaōritēs married Marie Wilson, and together they had three children: Katerina, Zōē, and Dino. From 1963 to 1968, he directed the literary review Pali in Athens. In 1968, shortly after the Greek military coup came to power, Valaōritēs and his family moved to the United States, where he taught comparative literature and creative writing at San Francisco State University until his retirement in 1993.

Valaōritēs has received various awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1981, and the Greek State Prize of Poetry for Some Women in 1983. In 1994 he was a poet-in-residence for the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. His most recent works are Grammatokivōtion anepidotōn epistolōn (2010) and Ho Homēros kai to alphavēto (2010).

Source: From the finding aid for C0929

  • Nanos Valaōritēs Papers. 1928-2007 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0929

    The Nanos Valaōritēs Papers consists of the writings, notebooks, sketchbooks, correspondence, and printed matter relating to Pali of the Greek poet, novelist, playwright, and editor, Nanos Valaōritēs. There are also wtitings of other people.

  • Nikos Stangos Papers. 1953-2009 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1375

    Consists of personal papers of Nikos Stangos, a prolific Modern Greek poet and one of the most influential figures in British art publishing. For more than 30 years he was responsible for some of the most important art books of the late 20th century. As a result, in his modest way, he helped shape the discipline of art history in Britain and the United States.