He published five collections of poems, the first of which was the 1946 collection entitled Poem, which included many of his most popular and influential works that were written between 1937 to 1946.
Tố Hữu was born as Nguyễn Kim Thành in Phù Lai Village in central Vietnam, later taking on the pseudonym Tố Hữu, whose Sino-Vietnamese etymology is unknown. Around the age of 18, he was incarcerated by the French colonial authorities for his involvement with the communist movement. He escaped from Dac Lay prison in 1942 and rejoined the communist underground.
Tố Hữu moved quickly and successfully through what became the Communist Party of Vietnam. During the pre-unification period (before 1975) Tố Hữu was most influential in setting cultural policy in North Vietnam, especially in deciding the bounds of what was permissible for intellectuals and artists to publish and perform during this tightly controlled period. His control of intellectual and artistic production was matched only by Trường Chinh and Hồ Chí Minh himself. Intellectual discontent with this control was expressed by the poet Lê Đạt who, during the Nhân Văn affair, declared that Tố Hữu considered writers and artists petty bourgeois elements, and regarded literature as a mere tool of politics. As an example, he mentioned the case of Nam Cao whom Tố Hữu compelled to write a work on the rural taxation system, a topic with which the writer was by no means familiar.
He continued to hold many important party and government posts, including member of the Politburo, Secretary of the Central Committee, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (as the government cabinet was then called), and the same post that was later renamed Deputy Prime Minister.
As the leader of the cultural section, he was named as the chief instigator of the persecution of intellectuals during the Nhân Văn affair. However, according to the musician Văn Cao, one of the prominent victims, the main author of this policy was Trường Chinh, the general secretary of the communist party at that time. According to Văn Cao, Tố Hữu, as a poet, was not sufficiently hard-hearted to pursue such a policy on his own. (See the article at the Vietnamese Wikipedia).
During his career, Tố Hữu was awarded the Gold Star Order, the 60-year membership badge, and the Hồ Chí Minh Award, the highest award for literary and artistic accomplishments conferred by the Vietnamese state.
Tố Hữu enjoyed a steep rise in the party and government culminating in an equally steep and precipitous decline. He was blamed for the disastrous 1985 attempt at monetary reform and the ruinous inflation that resulted from its unsuccessful implementation. Inflation had risen 700% by 1986. Tố Hữu had to step down from his position as deputy prime minister and played no further political role in Vietnam. Despite his political fall from grace, Tố Hữu remains the Communist Party's poet-laureate. He died in 2002.
- Bruce M. Lockhart, William J. Duiker The A to Z of Vietnam, 2010, p.364 entry
- Nguyen Công Công Luan Nationalist in the Viet Nam Wars: Memoirs of a Victim Turned Soldier 2012 "The poem was widely circulated in Việt Minh publications, but it was withdrawn at the start of the Khrushchev era. It has not appeared again, either in Tố Hữu's recent biography or in any publication out of Hà Nội. The poem was so servile that ..."
- Patricia M. Pelley - Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past 2002 - Page 120 "When Tố Hữu received the poetry prize for Viet Bac, he was an alternate member of the Central Committee.13 "
- Thu-Hương Nguyễn-Võ The Ironies of Freedom: Sex, Culture, and Neoliberal Governance in ...- 2008 - Page 191 "Tuấn Ngọc Nguyễn emphasizes partiinost, or party-minded spirit (đảng tính), as the determining criterion of socialist realism.20 He cites numerous poets such as Tố Hữu, Xuân Diệu, and Chế Lan Viên and some prose writers such as Nguyễn ...
- Balázs Szalontai, Political and Economic Crisis in North Vietnam, 1955-56. Cold War History, Vol. 5, Issue 4 (November 2005), p. 419. Downloadable at https://www.academia.edu/6097481/Political_and_Economic_Crisis_in_North_Vietnam_1955_-_56
- Christina Schwenkel The American War in Contemporary Vietnam 2009 Page 225 "A poem written about the photograph by the national poet Tố Hữu, “O Du Kích Nhỏ” [O Young Guerrilla], is commonly memorized by schoolchildren."
- Bright Quang - Road to the United States: Part 2 2006 - Page 13 "He also trained a few Vietnamese to forget the Vietnam nation, like Poet Tố Huu, who heard the dead Lenin, Tố Hữu poeticized a poem, “I cry my dead parents are only one time I will cry to my Uncle Ho Chi Minh only three times, But I cry for ..."