Kenneth Adolph Slessor was born on 27 March 1901 at Orange, New South Wales, the son of Robert and Margaret Slessor. He was educated at Mowbray House School, Chatswood (1910-1914), and the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, North Sydney (1915-1918). Although matriculating to the University of Sydney, Slessor never attended university. He studied typing and shorthand at the Metropolitan Business College in 1919 and in 1920 started work as a cadet reporter on the Sydney Sun. In 1922 he married Noela Senior.
Slessor became a general reporter for The Sun in 1923. In 1923 and 1924 he was a joint editor of Vision: a literary quarterly. In 1924 a limited edition of his poems, entitled Thief of the moon, was published. It was republished, with slight alterations, as Earth visitors in 1926, again as a limited edition. In 1925 Slessor worked in Melbourne as chief sub-editor of Punch (Melbourne) and as a feature writer for the Herald (Melbourne) but returned to Sydney as a special writer for The Sun in 1926. In 1927 he joined the staff of Smith's Weekly, became associate editor in 1936 and in 1938 was appointed the editor. In 1939 he became editor-in-chief of Smith's Newspapers.
During the 1930's a number of volumes of Slessor's poems were published. Five visions of Captain Cook appeared in 1931 in Trio: a book of poems, which also contained poetry by Harley Matthews and Colin Simpson. In 1932 Cuckooz contrey was published, and in the following year a volume of light verse entitled Darlinghurst nights and early morning glories. A small book of poems entitled Five bells was published in 1939.
From 1940 until his resignation in 1944 Slessor was Official War Correspondent with the AIF, serving with the rank of captain in the United Kingdom, Greece, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Egypt and New Guinea. He rejoined the Sydney Sun as a special writer in 1944, became literary editor of that newspaper in 1947 and chief leader writer in 1948. Slessor's One hundred poems 1919-1939 was published in 1944. Australian poetry 1945, edited by Slessor, was published in 1946.
Slessor was appointed a member of the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1953 and held the post until his death in 1971. From 1956 until 1964 he was president of the Journalists' Club in Sydney, and from 1956 to 1961 he was editor of the literary journal Southerly. In 1957 Slessor left The Sun to become leader writer and book reviewer for the Daily Telegraph.
Poems, basically a reprint of One hundred poems 1919-1939 with three additional poems, was published in 1957, and in 1958 The Penguin book of Australian verse, edited by Slessor, John Thompson and Guy Howarth, was published. Slessor was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1959 for his services to Australian literature. His publications during the 1960s included Australian profile (1960), The grapes are growing: the story of Australian wine (1963), Life at the Cross (1965), Canberra (1966) and Sydney Harbour (1966). In 1968 Slessor was appointed a member of the National Literature Board of Review. Bread and wine, a book containing selected pieces of prose by Slessor, was published in 1970.
Slessor died in Sydney on 30 June 1971 after a heart attack.
JAFFA, Herbert C. Kenneth Slessor. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1971. Includes a select bibliography.
MILLER, E. Morris and McCARTNEY, F.T. Australian literature. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1956.
SEMMLER, Clement Kenneth Slessor. London: Longmans, Green and Co. for the British Council and the National Book League, 1966.
THOMSON, A.K. Critical essays on Kenneth Slessor. Brisbane: Jacaranda Press, 1968. Includes a bibliography.
Southerly, Vol. 31, No.4, 1971. Slessor memorial number.
Who's who in Australia. Melbourne: Herald and Weekly Times, 1968.