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Alasdair Gray

Alasdair Gray (born 28 December 1934) is a Scottish writer and artist. His most acclaimed work is his first novel Lanark, published in 1981 and written over a period of almost 30 years. It is now regarded as a classic, and was described by The Guardian as "one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction."[1] His novel Poor Things (1992) won the Whitbread Novel Award[2] and the Guardian Fiction Prize.[3] He is a Scottish civic nationalist and a republican.

Gray's works combine elements of realism, fantasy, and science fiction, plus clever use of typography and his own illustrations. He has also written on politics, in support of socialism and Scottish independence, and on the history of English literature. He has been described by author Will Self as "a creative polymath with an integrated politico-philosophic vision",[4] and as "a great writer, perhaps the greatest living in this archipelago today"[5] and by himself as "a fat, spectacled, balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian".[6]



Book cover designed and Illustrated by Alasdair Gray. Gray was born in Riddrie, east Glasgow. His father had been wounded in the First World War and worked at the time in a factory, while his mother worked in a shop. During the Second World War, Gray was evacuated to Perthshire and then Lanarkshire, experiences which he drew on in his later fiction. The family lived on a council scheme, and Gray received his education from a combination of state education, (at Whitehill Secondary School), public libraries, and public service broadcasting: "the kind of education British governments now consider useless, especially for British working class children", as he later commented. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1952 to 1957, and taught there from 1958 to 1962. It was as a student that he first began what would become the novel Lanark.

After his graduation, Gray worked as a scene and portrait painter, as well as an independent artist and writer. His first plays were broadcast on radio and television in 1968. Between 1972 and 1974, he participated in a writing group organised by Philip Hobsbaum, where he met James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, and Tom Leonard. From 1977 to 1979, he was Writer in Residence at Glasgow University. In 2001, he became, with Tom Leonard and James Kelman, joint Professor of the Creative Writing programme at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities.

Gray illustrates his books himself, and has produced many murals as well as paintings. One of his longest-lasting murals can be seen in the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in the West End of Glasgow.

In 2001, he stood as the candidate of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association for the post of Rector of the University of Glasgow, but was eventually narrowly defeated by Greg Hemphill. Formerly a supporter of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party, at the 2010 UK General Election he supported his local Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate, Katy Gordon.[7] He is a civic nationalist, stating in his 1992 book Why Scots Should Rule Scotland: "The title of this book may sound threatening to those who live in Scotland but were born and educated elsewhere, so I had better explain that by Scots I mean everyone in Scotland who is eligible to vote".[8]

He has been married twice: firstly to Inge Sorenson (1961 1970), and since 1991 to Morag McAlpine. He has one son, Andrew, born in 1964. He still lives in the West End of Glasgow.

He produced the ceiling mural for The Auditorium of the Oran Mor on Byres Road in Glasgow, one of the largest works of art in Scotland.

Gray frequently uses the quotation, "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation", which is engraved in the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament building. He attributes the quote to Canadian author Dennis Lee.

Gray painted the artwork for Scottish band De Rosa's second studio album, Prevention, which was released in 2009.


Book cover designed and Illustrated by Alasdair Gray.

  • "It is plain that the vaster the social unit, the less possible is true democracy." Lanark, p. 289
  • "Who did the council fight?"
"It split in two and fought itself."
"That's suicide!"
"No, ordinary behaviour. The efficient half eats the less efficient half and grows stronger. War is just a violent way of doing what half the people do calmly in peacetime: using the other half for food, heat, machinery and sexual pleasure. Man is the pie that bakes and eats himself, and the recipe is separation."
"I refuse to believe men kill each other just to make their enemies rich."
"How can men recognize their real enemies when their family, schools and work teach them to struggle with each other and to believe law and decency come from the teachers?"
"My son won't be taught that," said Lanark firmly.
"You have a son?"
"Not yet." Lanark, p.411

Literary works


  • Lanark (1981)
  • 1982, Janine (1984)
  • The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1985)
  • Something Leather (1990)
  • McGrotty and Ludmilla (1990)
  • Poor Things (1992)
  • A History Maker (1994)
  • Mavis Belfrage (1996)
  • Old Men In Love (2007)

Short stories

  • Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983)
  • Lean Tales (1985) (with James Kelman and Agnes Owens)
  • Ten Tales Tall & True (1993)
  • The Ends of Our Tethers (2003)


  • Old Negatives (1989)
  • Sixteen Occasional Poems (2000)
  • Collected Verse (2010)

Dramatic works (incomplete)


  • Dialogue - A Duet (1971)
  • The Loss Of The Golden Silence (1973)
  • Homeward Bound - A Trio for Female Chauvinists (1973)
  • Sam Lang and Miss Watson - A One Act Sexual Comedy In Four Scenes (1973)
  • McGrotty and Ludmilla (1986)
  • Working Legs: A Play for Those Without Them (1997)
  • Goodbye Jimmy (2006)
  • Fleck (2008)
  • A Gray Play Book (2009)


  • Dialogue - A Duet (1972)
  • Today and Yesterday
  • Martin (1972)


  • Dialogue - A Duet (1969)
  • The Loss Of The Golden Silence (1973)

As illustrator

  • Songs of Scotland (Author, Wilma Patterson) (1996)


  • Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1992; revised 1997)
  • The Book of Prefaces (ed.) (2000)
  • How We Should Rule Ourselves (2005)
  • A Life in Pictures (2010)


  • (Contributor) Pax Edina: The One O' Clock Gun Anthology (Edinburgh, 2010)[9]

Books about Alasdair Gray


  • The Arts of Alasdair Gray, Robert Crawford and Thom Nairn (1991)
  • Alasdair Gray, Stephen Bernstein (1999)
  • Alasdair Gray: A Unique Scottish Magus, Joy Hendry (ed.) (2000)
  • Alasdair Gray: Critical Appreciations and a Bibliography, Phil Moores (ed.) (2001; includes contributions by Gray himself.)
  • Voices from Modern Scotland: Janice Galloway, Alasdair Gray, Bernard Sellin (coord.) (2007)
  • Alasdair Gray, le faiseur d'Ecosse, Camille Manfredi, Presses Universitaires de Rennes (2012)


  • Alasdair Gray: A Secretary's Biography, Rodge Glass (2008)
  • A Life in Pictures (2010) (illustrated autobiography)


  1. National Library of Scotland
  2. Guardian Fiction Prize
  3. Moores ed. Alasdair Gray: Critical Appreciations and a Bibliography (2001) p. 4.
  4. Blog Archive Alisdair Gray: An Introduction
  5. Gray, The Ends of Our Tethers, Dustjacket (recto).

External links

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