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Archive of Jenny Joseph


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Correspondence, journals, and literary papers including drafts and proofs of Jenny Joseph's published works and poetry, with associated art works, photographs, and audio recordings of readings and musical settings of poems.


  • Creation: 1945-2017


20.0 Linear metres (133 physical shelfmarks, 84 digital shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 12404/6].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 12404/1-132, MS. 12404 photogr. 1, MSS. 12404 digital 1-84

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 12404, 12632


Correspondence and literary papers of the poet and writer Jenny Joseph, author of the poem 'Warning', 1945-2017.

Biographical / Historical

Jenny Joseph (1932-2018) [various sources incorrectly name her as Jenefer or Jennifer Ruth Joseph] was born in Birmingham and raised in Buckinghamshire by her Jewish but non-religious parents Louis and Florence Joseph. She studied French in Switzerland in her teens, won a scholarship to St Hilda's College in Oxford, and graduated with a degree in English in 1953. She trained as a secretary and was then offered a trainee position at Westminster Press Provincial Newspapers. She started as a reporter for the Bedfordshire Times and then came to Oxford to work for the Oxford Mail. She moved to South Africa in December 1957 and worked as a secretary to the editor of the Golden City Post, the Sunday paper offshoot of the magazine Drum, and as a reviewer for the leftist newspaper New Age. In February 1959 she had started teaching at Central Indian High School in Johannesburg when she learned that she was being formally expelled from South Africa by the Minister of the Interior for reasons stated as 'economic grounds or on account of standard or habits of life' - likely connected to her anti-apartheid views and associations. She returned to London and thereafter lived mainly in London and in Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire.

She married publican Charles Anthony Coles in 1961 (they separated in the early 1970s, he died in 1985) and had three children while continuing to write and teach as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language and a lecturer in English language and literature for the Workers Education Association and West London College, as well as participating in 'visits to schools' schemes arranged by the Poetry Society. She was also the British Council delegate to the Struga Conference held in Yugoslavia in 1982, served on the council of the Poetry Society, and in the 1980s and early 1990s was part of the committee that launched the National Poetry Speaking Competition.

Jenny Joseph's poetry was first published and broadcast on radio in the early 1950s on programmes like John Lehmann's New Soundings, Thought For The Day, Poetry Please and Hugh Casson's My Pleasure. Her first poetry collection, The Unlooked-for Season, was published in 1960 by Scorpion Press (and in 1962 received a Gregory award for poets under 30). During the 1960s she wrote six children's reading books (and in 2000 she published All the Things I See - Selected Poems for Children). Her next poetry collection was the Cholmondeley Award winning Rose in the Afternoon and Other Poems (1974), which contained the famous and much anthologised poem 'Warning' (opening "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple") which was first made widely available in The Listener in early 1962. She has also published short stories and a work on early childhood education. Her last poetry collection Nothing like Love, was published in 2009. Despite failing vision, she kept reading and writing until December 2013, after which her eyesight deteriorated so much that she was no longer able to do so.

In 1995 Joseph won the Forward Prize for her poem 'In Honour of Love'. Her experimental fiction work Persephone (1986) won the 1986 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. In October 1996 'Warning' was voted Britain's favourite post-war poem in a BBC poll as part of National Poetry Week. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Jenny Joseph and her family Mar 2017, Apr 2018, May 2018, Mar 2019, May 2019, and by Andrew Hewson Sep 2017.

Related Materials

AA portrait photograph of Jenny Joseph by Robert Mitchell is at MS. Photogr. c. 572, fol. 42.

Archive of Jenny Joseph
Finding aid prepared by Charlotte McKillop-Mash
Language of description
Script of description
Catalogued with the generous support of Jenny Joseph's family and close friend Joanna S Rose.

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom