Kingsley Amis was born in Clapham, south London, the son of William Robert Amis, a mustard manufacturer's clerk in the City of London and his wife Rosa Annie, née Lucas. He was educated at the City of London School on a scholarship after his first year, and in April 1941 was admitted to St. John's College, Oxford, also on a scholarship, where he read English. It was there that he met Philip Larkin, with whom he formed the most important friendship of his life. While at Oxford, in June 1941, Amis joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. After only a year, in July 1942, he was called up for national service. After serving in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Second World War, Amis returned to Oxford in October 1945 to complete his degree. Although he worked hard and earned a 1947 first in English, he had by then decided to give much of his time to writing.
In 1946 he met Hilary Bardwell; they married in 1948 after she became pregnant with their first child, Philip. Amis initially arranged for her to have a back-street abortion, but changed his mind, fearing for her safety. He became a lecturer in English at the University of Wales, Swansea (1949–1961). Two other children followed: Martin in August 1949 and Sally in January 1954. Days after Sally's birth, Amis's first novel Lucky Jim was published to great acclaim; critics saw it as having caught the flavour of Britain in the 1950s, ushering in a new style of fiction. By 1972, in addition to impressive sales in Britain, one and a quarter million paperback copies had been sold in the United States, and it was eventually translated into twenty languages, including Czech, Hebrew, Korean, and Serbo-Croat. The novel won the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction and Amis was associated with the writers labelled the Angry Young Men. Lucky Jim was one of the first British campus novels, setting a precedent for later generations of writers such as Malcolm Bradbury, David Lodge, Tom Sharpe and Howard Jacobson. As a poet, Amis was associated with The Movement.
During 1958–1959 he made the first of two visits to the United States, where he was Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing at Princeton University and a visiting lecturer in other northeastern universities. On returning to Britain, he fell into a rut, and he began looking for another post; after thirteen years at Swansea, Amis became a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge (1961–1963). He regretted the move within a year, finding Cambridge an academic and social disappointment and resigned in 1963, intent on moving to Majorca; he went no further than London.
In 1963, Hilary discovered Amis's love affair with novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. Hilary and Amis separated in August; he went to live with Howard. He divorced Hilary in 1965, and then married Howard the same year; Jane and Kingsley divorced in 1983. In his last years, Amis shared a house with his first wife Hilary and her third husband, Alastair Boyd, 7th Baron Kilmarnock. Martin wrote the memoir Experience about the life, charm, and decline of his father.
Amis was knighted in 1990. In August 1995 he fell, suffering a suspected stroke. After apparently recovering, he worsened, was re-admitted to hospital, and died on 22 October 1995 at St Pancras Hospital, London. He was cremated; his ashes are at Golders Green Crematorium.
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