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The Legacy of Dylan Thomas

Find out about the brilliant, talented, and charismatic poet, Dylan Thomas. Learn about the legacy of one of the most celebrated writers and poets of the 20th century.

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, is one the most beloved of Christmas traditions, and yet it was almost lost to us, rescued only by serendipity, luck and two plucky American women.

One of the most celebrated writers and poets of the 20th century, Dylan Thomas was born in the Welsh coastal town of Swansea in 1914, spending the first 20-some years if his life there before moving to London in 1934, where his first volume of poetry was published, later returning to Wales to live there on and off with his young family.

A brilliant, talented, and charismatic poet , Thomas was also troubled, known in his day almost as much for his drunken, rowdy tears as for his writing.  In 1952, Thomas was in New York City, reading his poetry publicly, a trip he often made when he found himself in debt.  His gorgeous readings of his work were more like performances, and he was in great demand.

Barbara Holdridge and best friend Marianne Roney has just graduated from Hunter College when they made a move that would forever change the literary world.  They wanted to start a recording business, recording writers reading their work, rather than music.  Their company would go on to become the famous Caedmon Records, but for now they were two young women in a decidedly man’s world looking for a way to make their mark.  They heard that that Dylan Thomas was giving a reading at the 92nd St Y, and decided that they would record him.

At the Y, they asked to see Thomas, but were rudely turned away by an usher.  They sent a note backstage, and started ringing him round the clock at the Chelsea Hotel, to no avail.  Finally they tried calling him at 4am, and got him as he came back in from a night of carousing.  They finally got him into the studio, with poems in hand – but not enough to fill a record.  What to do with the B side?

They asked what else he might have, and after some thought, he said “Well, I did have this story that was published in Harper’s Bazaar that was kind of a Christmas story.”  He couldn’t even remember the title, and had no copy of it.  A few desperate calls later, they’d borrowed the only known file copy form the magazine.

Dylan began to read what would become know as “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”.  Barbara Holdridge remembers the moment well. “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice, this full, orchestral voice.”

The recording would sell modestly at first, but in the years to come went on to become his most popular prose work in America, and a Christmas tradition.

Much of Thomas’ poetry is darkly beautiful, lyrically powerful.  But “A Child’s Christmas finds him in a happier place; there is something offhand and gentle about this dreamlike tale of a Christmas past, filtered thru memory and song and ghosts.

Dylan Thomas would make return again to America the next year, on a reading tour that saw him saddened and worried, drinking heavily.  He died in St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City on ________,  just 39 years old, not knowing that his beloved Wales would live forever in a ______________ story that would become his --