Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess

These articles focus on particular aspects of Anthony Burgess’s life and work, including his biography, novels, music, films, and religious beliefs.

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Burgess began writing journalism when he was a student at Manchester University between 1937 and 1940. He contributed book and theatre reviews to the university magazine, The Serpent, which also published his poems and short stories. Having been conscripted into the armed forces in December 1940, he wrote poetry and film reviews for two Army newspapers, The Rock and the Gibraltar Chronicle. Between 1950 and 1954 he was an occasional contributor to the Banburian, the magazine of Banbury Grammar School. In his autobiography he notes that some of his poems were published in a local newspaper, the Banbury Guardian.

His career as a book reviewer and cultural commentator took flight after he became a full-time writer in 1959. From 1961 he was writing regular signed articles for the Listener and the Observer, as well as anonymous book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement. In 1962 he was appointed as the fiction reviewer of the Yorkshire Post, and he produced weekly reviews of new novels until 16 May 1963, when he was sacked for reviewing one of his own novels, Inside Mr Enderby, published under the pseudonym Joseph Kell. This sacking did nothing to diminish his productivity as a journalist. Within a few weeks he was writing regular television reviews for the Listener, as well as fiction reviews for the Guardian and the Observer. In 1965 he was hired as the theatre critic of the Spectator, and he wrote book reviews and political commentaries for the same publication throughout the 1960s. From 1966 until 1968 he had regular columns in the Guardian and the Hudson Review. A selection of his literary essays, Urgent Copy, was published by Jonathan Cape and W.W. Norton in 1968.

After Burgess left England for Malta in 1968, he continued to write autobiographical articles for the Listener and the American Scholar, as well as a ‘Viewpoint’ column for the Times Literary Supplement. His association with the TLS continued until the end of his life, and he was regarded by Arthur Crook, the editor, as ‘a friend of the paper’, despite his propensity to introduce libels into his copy.

Burgess wrote high quality copy and delivered it on time: as a result he was usually popular with newspaper editors. However, his editor at Rolling Stone, Hunter S. Thompson, became impatient over a piece and drafted an unsent letter to Burgess on 17 August 1973: ‘What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs? You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past. Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.’ This text was published in a book of Thompson’s letters some years after Burgess’s death, but there is no indication that he ever received the letter, which is missing from the otherwise comprehensive files of incoming correspondence in the Burgess archive.

Others expressed a higher estimation of Burgess’s talent as a journalist. From 1969 he was regularly commissioned by the New York Times to write on a variety of subjects, including the state of American education, the future of the novel in 2000 AD, pornography, the composition of his third symphony, the opening of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the architecture of Gaudí in Barcelona, Yves Saint Laurent, and the proliferation of cockroaches in New York.

In the 1980s he published a regular diary in the Saturday Review, under the title ‘Notes from the Blue Coast’. He assembled a second volume of his journalism, Homage to Qwert Yuiop, in 1986 (in America this book was published as But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?).

Burgess continued to write for the New York Times, the Independent, the Times Literary Supplement and the Observer until his death in 1993.

In additional to his English-language journalism, Burgess wrote many articles for the Italian newspapers, especially the Corriere della Sera. The majority of these pieces have never appeared in English.

A selection of Burgess’s occasional essays, One Man’s Chorus, was edited by Ben Forkner in 1998. Carcanet published The Ink Trade, a selection of previously uncollected literary journalism, in 2018. At the time of writing (August 2023), a volume of Burgess’s essays on music, titled The Devil Prefers Mozart, has been announced for publication in 2024.

A detailed list of published articles up to 1982 can be found in Paul Boytinck’s Anthony Burgess: An Annotated Bibliography and Reference Guide (New York: Garland, 1985).