James was educated at the Durham Chorister School, Repton and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry. He has worked as a political and literary journalist on the New Statesman, was a freelance reporter in Indo-China, spent a year in Germany working for The Guardian, was theatre critic for The Sunday Times for five years, chief book reviewer for The Times from 1984 to 1986, South-East Asian correspondent for The Independent from 1986 to 1988 and a columnist for them until 1995. He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books.
James Fenton was professor of poetry at Oxford from 1994 to 1999. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1983. He won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry and was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry in 2007.
Recent work includes a new selection of poems, Yellow Tulips. It contains some of the most memorable lyric verse of the past decades, from the formal skill that marked his debut, Terminal Moraine, to the dramatic and political monologues of The Memory of War and Children in Exile, through to the unforgettable love poems of Out of Danger. He edited The New Faber Book of Love Poems in 2006. Further publications include: School of Genius: a History of the Royal Academy of Arts, A Garden of a Hundred Packets of Seeds, Samuel T Coleridge Selected Poems, William Blake Selected Poems, his reportage as a war correspondent All the Wrong Places: Adrift in the Politics of South-East Asia, and the collection of essays The Strength of Poetry.
Plays and libretti include: The Orphan of Zhao and Tamar’s Revenge (RSC); Pictures From an Exhibition (Young Vic); The Tsunami Song Cycle (BBC); Rigoletto (ENO) and Haroun and the Sea of Stories (New York City Opera).