Presented by Poet in the City in collaboration with Faber

T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, is one of the greatest poems in the English language. Published in Eliot's own magazine The Criterion in 1922, it’s a complicated, dramatic, captivating work and one that still provokes questions about its origins - and its inspiration.

Women weave a vital thread throughout the poem…and Eliot’s life.  From the drama and tragedy of his marriage to Vivien Eliot who shared in Eliot's ‘horror' at post-war civilisation, and his genius. To Virginia Woolf who printed the book herself at Hogarth Press. To his hidden muse –  the quiet American drama teacher Emily Hale – now known to be the poem’s Hyacinth Girl. Each left her trace on the great work.

Join Poet in the City for an evening of performance and discussion, delving into new insight from Eliot’s previously hidden love letters, to uncover the compelling women who inspired this landmark poem.

With discussion from renowned biographer Lyndall Gordon, author and journalist Erica Wagner and Virago Chair Lennie Goodings, together with performance's from Bafta, Olivier and Emmy Award winner Dame Eileen Atkins. 

Dame Eileen Atkins

Dame Eileen Atkins, Bafta, Olivier and Emmy Award winner, will read from The Waste Land as part of the event, and she couldn’t be more appropriate: with Jeremy Irons she recorded a reading of The Waste Land; she adapted Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway for film; has played Virginia Woolf on stage three times and she acted in TS Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party.

Erica Wagner

Erica Wagner is an author and critic. Her books include Gravity: Stories, Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday LettersChief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge and First Light: A Celebration of Alan Garner. Literary editor of The Times for seventeen years, she is now the Goldsmiths Distinguished Writers’ Centre Fellow, a contributing writer for the New Statesman, consulting literary editor for Harper’s Bazaar and Lead Editorial Innovator for Creatd, Inc.

Lyndall Gordon

Lyndall Gordon was born in Cape Town and studied American Literature at Columbia in New York. She came to England through the Rhodes Trust in 1973. She has written seven biographies including The Imperfect Life of T S Eliot, the ‘Life’ for the official Eliot website, and Lives Like Loaded Guns:  Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds. There are also two memoirs, Shared Lives, a story of women’s friendship in her native South Africa, and Divided Lives about her tie to a poetic mother whose own spiritual journey opened up Eliot’s poetry.  Lyndall is a senior research fellow at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Noreen Masud

Noreen Masud is a Lecturer in Twentieth Century Literature at the University of Bristol, and an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker 2020. She writes and publishes widely on topics such as aphorisms, flatness and nonsense, with Edward Lear a particular focus. Her first book, Hard Language: Stevie Smith and the Aphorism, is out with Oxford University Press this year; her memoir/travelogue, A Flat Place, is out with Hamish Hamilton (UK) and Melville House Press (USA) in 2023. Noreen has made programmes for BBC Radio 3 on subjects including puppetry, Hadrian’s Wall and aphorisms. Her website is, and she tweets as @NoreenMasud.

Lennie Goodings

Lennie Goodings is Chair of the UK British publishing house Virago Press. Her authors include among others, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters, Naomi Wolf, Joan Bakewell and Marilynne Robinson. She is Canadian and has been in London and with Virago since the late 1970s; working with authors and books is her passion. Lennie is also the Chair of the board of trustees for Poet in the City.

Book your tickets HERE now.

Image: Photographs of Emily Hale and Vivien Eliot by kind permission of the T S Eliot estate