Edward (Ted) Hughes was born on August 17th, 1930 in Mytholmroyd (in the U.K.’s Yorkshire Pennines).
He was the third child of William Hughes, a WWI veteran, and Edith Hughes. His father worked as a carpenter until they moved to Mexborough, a mining town, in 1937. There, after his mother came into a small inheritance, they opened a shop and sold newspapers, magazines, and tobacco. The storefront business allowed Ted to read comics and boys’ magazines, which inspired his early storytelling.
Ted attended Mexborough Grammar School, where he studied Latin and began to write poetry. The 1944 Education Act had made it easier for Britons from any background to attend university, and in 1948 Ted won an Open Exhibition to Pembroke College, Cambridge. The start of Ted’s studies there was delayed two years by his National Service in the RAF. In October 1951, he went up to Pembroke to study English, although he switched to archaeology and anthropology.
Following graduation, Ted went to live in London. He often returned to Cambridge, spending many a weekend with friends such as Michael Boddy and Lucas Myers. With the latter (and other peers), Ted conceived the literary magazine St. Botolph’s Review, for which an inaugural party was arranged on February 26th, 1956.
In a hall on the second floor of the Cambridge Women’s Union, with a jazz band (featuring his friend Boddy on trombone) playing, Ted met Sylvia Plath for the first time. They were married less than four months later.
The couple moved to the United States the following year. Ted taught English and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst from 1957 to 1959. By the time the Hugheses returned to England in late 1959, Ted had already been successfully published.
His work received a great deal of recognition from very early on in his career. His first collection, The Hawk in the Rain, won the Harper’s Poetry Prize. His subsequent literary honors included the Whitbread Poetry award for Tales From Ovid.
Sylvia and Ted had two children together, but, by the time of their rural sojourn in Devon, they had become increasingly estranged. In September 1962, they separated after Sylvia had confirmed Ted’s extramarital affair with Assia Wevill. In February 1963, Sylvia committed suicide.
With Assia, Ted fathered another child, named Shura, in 1965. Four years later, Assia killed herself and their daughter.
In 1970, Ted remarried, to Carol Orchard. In 1984, he became Poet Laureate, the highest honor that can be accorded a British poet.
For over three decades following her death, Ted Hughes refused to discuss Sylvia Plath and their years together. Then, in January 1998, he published Birthday Letters, a collection of poems about his life with Sylvia, for which he again won the Whitbread Poetry award. He died of cancer in October 1998, at the age of 68.
Among Ted’s best-known works is his children’s story “The Iron Man,” from 1968.