Alasdair Gray

Alasdair Gray (born 28 December 1934) is a Scottish writer and artist. His acclaimed first novel, Lanark (1981), written over almost 30 years, was described by The Guardian as "one of the landmarks of 20th-century fiction."[1] Poor Things (1992) won him a Whitbread Novel Award[2] and Guardian Fiction Prize.[3]

Alasdair Gray
BornAlasdair Gray
(1934-12-28) 28 December 1934
Glasgow, Scotland
OccupationNovelist, artist, playwright, academic, teacher, poet, muralist, illustrator
GenreScience fiction, dystopianism, surrealism, realism
Literary movementPostmodern literature
Notable worksLanark: A Life in Four Books
1982, Janine
Poor Things
The Book of Prefaces


Gray calls himself a civic nationalist[4] and a republican. His works combine realism, fantasy, and science fiction, plus use of typography and his own illustrations. He has also written in support of socialism and Scottish independence and on the history of English literature.

He has been seen as "a creative polymath with an integrated politico-philosophic vision",[5] and "perhaps the greatest living [writer] in this archipelago today",[6] and by himself as "a fat, spectacled, balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian".[7]

In 2019, he was awarded the inaugural Saltire Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Scottish literature.[8][9][10]


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 estate, and Gray received his education from a combination of state education, (at Whitehill Secondary School), public libraries, and the BBC: "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, which also included James Kelman, Liz Lochhead, Tom Leonard, Aonghas MacNeacail and Jeff Torrington. From 1977 to 1979, he was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Glasgow. 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[11] in the West End of Glasgow, and more recently in the Hillhead subway station.[11]

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 narrowly defeated by Greg Hemphill. Formerly a supporter of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party, at the 2010 general election he supported his local Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate.[12] He describes himself as 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".[13] Following an essay written in 2012, in which he characterised English people working in Scotland as either long-term "settlers" or short-term "colonists" Gray – though writing with approval about the former[4] – found himself being accused of being anti-English, and a critic of English immigration into Scotland. He disputes this.[14] Gray's full essay was published on the Word Power Books website[15] Gray responded to criticism of his essay by stating that "...many of [his] best friends are English".[4]

He has been married twice: first to Inge Sorenson (1961–1970) and in 1991 to Morag McAlpine. McAlpine died after a short illness in May 2014.[16] He has one son, Andrew, born in 1964. He still lives in the West End of Glasgow.

His ceiling mural for The Auditorium of the Oran Mor arts & entertainment venue on Byres Road in Glasgow is one of the largest works of art in Scotland.[17]

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.[18]

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

In June 2015 he was seriously injured in a fall at his home in Glasgow.[19]

Artistic works

Gray has been prolific as an artist since graduating from the Glasgow School of Art in 1957. Trained in mural painting, his Glasgow murals include those in the Hillhead subway station and in the Oran Mor, an arts and music venue. His paintings, drawings and prints are well known and widely collected. His works are often sold in the art market, for example by the London auction houses.[20] Examples of his paintings and prints are currently housed in various public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the National Library of Scotland, the Hunterian Museum, and the Arts Council of England collection. His art was celebrated in 2014-2015 with a major retrospective exhibition at Glasgow's Kelvingrove[21] Examples of his art are also held in the privately owned The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History.[22]

In 1977-1978 Gray worked for the People's Palace in Glasgow, a local history museum, as the city's "artist recorder". The job was make-work employment funded through a job creation scheme set up by the Labour government of the day. While it lasted, Gray produced hundreds of drawings of the city, including portraits of politicians, people in the arts, members of the general public and workplaces with workers. These are now in the collection of Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum,[23] and formed a major component of the works on display at the retrospective exhibition.

In 2017 Gray's first solo art exhibition in London was staged.[24] The exhibition ran from 27 July to 12 August at the Coningsby Gallery, in Fitzrovia;[25] and afterwards was moved to the Leyden Gallery in Spitalfields, from 14 August to 9 September.[26]



  • Lanark (1981) ISBN 978-1-84767-374-9
  • 1982, Janine (1984) ISBN 978-1-84767-444-9
  • The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1985)
  • Something Leather (1990) ISBN 9780330319447
  • McGrotty and Ludmilla (1990) ISBN 9781872536002
  • Poor Things (1992) ISBN 9781564783073
  • A History Maker (1994)
  • Mavis Belfrage (1996) ISBN 9780747530893
  • Old Men In Love (2007) ISBN 9780747593539

Short stories

  • Unlikely Stories, Mostly 26 September 1984; Canongate Books ISBN 978-1-84767-502-6
  • Lean Tales (1985) (with James Kelman and Agnes Owens); Vintage, 1995, ISBN 9780099585411
  • Ten Tales Tall & True (1993) ISBN 9780151000906
  • The Ends of Our Tethers: 13 Sorry Stories. Canongate Books. January 2005. ISBN 978-1-84195-626-8.
  • Every Short Story by Alasdair Gray 1951-2012. Canongate Books. 15 November 2012. ISBN 978-0-85786-562-5.


  • Old Negatives (1989) ISBN 9780224026567
  • Sixteen Occasional Poems (2000)
  • Collected Verse (2010) ISBN 9781906120535


  • Hell: Dante's Divine Trilogy Part One Decorated and Englished in Prosaic Verse (2018) ISBN 978-1-78689-253-9


  • Dialogue - A Duet (1971)
  • The Loss of the Golden Silence
  • 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)



As illustrator

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


  • Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1992; revised 1997)
  • The Book of Prefaces (ed.) (2000)
  • A Short Survey of Classic Scottish Writing (2001), (ISBN 978-1841951676)
  • How We Should Rule Ourselves (2005) (with Adam Tomkins, ISBN 978-1841957227)
  • Alasdair Gray (22 October 2010). A Life In Pictures. Canongate Books. ISBN 978-1-84767-962-8.
  • Of Me & Others: An Autobiography (Cargo Publishing.) (2014)

Other appearances


  • Cindytalk Wappinschaw (Touched Recordings, 1994) - Gray appears on "Wheesht" reading from Book 2 of Lanark[28]
  • Future Pilot AKA Secrets From The Clockhouse (Creeping Bent, 2006) – Gray performs on "Equations of Love"[29]
  • LAN Formatique The Sadness of Distances (Signifier, 2012) - Gray appears on "Mind the Gap" (reading from the poem of the same name), "1st of March, 1990" (reading from the poem of the same name), and "The Stars Are But Thistles" (reading from the poem "Dictators").[30]


  • Under the Helmet. A 1964 BBC film about the career of Alasdair Gray.[31]


  • (Contributor) Pax Edina: The One O' Clock Gun Anthology (Edinburgh, 2010)[32]
  • (Contributor) "Elsewhere: Here" (Cargo Publishing/McSweeney's, 2012)
  • (Contributor) Beacons: Stories for Our Not So Distant Future (Oneworld Publications, 2013)

Books about 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.)
  • La Scozia di Alasdair Gray, Aurelio Pasini, Mobydick (2001)
  • Postmodern Strategies in Alasdair Gray's Lanark: A Life in Four Books, Luis de Juan (2003)
  • Shades of Gray: Science Fiction, History and the Problem of Postmodernism in the Work of Alasdair Gray, Dietmar Böhnke (2004)
  • Alasdair Gray: The Fiction of Communion, Gavin Miller (2005)
  • 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: Ink for Worlds, Camille Manfredi (ed.) (2014; includes contributions by Gray himself.)


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


  1. "Alasdair Gray". The Guardian. London. 22 July 2008. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008.
  2. "Alasdair Gray". Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 February 2007. Retrieved 20 January 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Peterkin, Tom (16 December 2012). "Alasdair Gray attacks English for "colonising" arts". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 19 December 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  5. Moores ed. Alasdair Gray: Critical Appreciations and a Bibliography (2001) p. 4.
  6. Chris M (12 January 2006). "Blog Archive » Alisdair Gray: An Introduction". Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  7. Gray, The Ends of Our Tethers, dust jacket.
  11. Fleischer, Evan (26 August 2015). "How Alasdair Gray Reimagined Glasgow". Archived from the original on 20 September 2017 via
  12. Currie, Brian; Settle, Michael (21 April 2010). "LibDems enjoy Clegg bounce in Scotland at expense of SNP". The Herald. Archived from the original on 26 April 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  13. Williamson, Kevin (2009). "Language and culture in a rediscovered Scotland". In Perryman, Mark (ed.). Breaking up Britain: Four Nations after a Union (PDF). London: Lawrence & Wishart. pp. 53–67. ISBN 978-1-905007-96-7. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 February 2011.
  14. Miller, Phil (18 December 2012). "Author Gray hits back at anti-English claims". The Herald. Archived from the original on 21 December 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  15. "Word Power Books | Settlers and Colonists by Alasdair Gray". 20 December 2012. Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  16. "Private funeral for wife of author Gray". Herald Scotland. 21 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  17. Andrew Davies-Cole (22 October 2009). "Gray's anatomy of the bigger picture". Herald Scotland. Archived from the original on 20 June 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  18. Gray, Alasdair (5 May 2007). "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation". The Herald. Archived from the original on 20 June 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  19. Association, Press (18 June 2015). "Alasdair Gray seriously injured in fall". Archived from the original on 11 March 2017 via
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 6 July 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Sotheby's auction sales results for Alasdair Gray, retrieved on 27 November 2017.
  21. "Kelvingrove celebrates Alasdair Gray". 10 October 2014. Archived from the original on 11 November 2014 via
  22. "Connoisseur of the curious". Archived from the original on 5 October 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  23. A Life in Pictures, by Alasdair Gray, pages 172–198
  24. Alasdair Gray's Life in Pictures: Paintings, Drawings and Prints 1951 - 2017 (exhibition catalogue, by Kevin Brown and Alasdair Gray, available in UK deposit libraries).
  25. Bookshop, London Review. "Why don't you people buy more Alasdair Gray? - Blog". Archived from the original on 1 December 2017.
  26. "Alasdair Gray set for first London exhibition". BBC News. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018.
  27. "Alasdair (James) Gray Biography". Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  28. "Cindytalk - Wappinschaw". Discogs. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  29. "Future Pilot A. K. A. - Secrets From The Clockhouse". Discogs. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  30. "LAN Formatique - The Sadness Of Distances". Discogs. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  31. "Under the Helmet". BBC. Archived from the original on 22 January 2015. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  32. "Leamington Books". Leamington Books. Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
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