Alasdair Gray: 'Literary giant' and author of Lanark dies aged 85

29 December 2019, 19:45

Alasdair Gray has died aged 85 following a short illness
Alasdair Gray has died aged 85 following a short illness. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The "genius" author and "cultural trailblazer" Alasdair Gray has died one day after his 85th birthday, following a short illness.

Gray wrote, designed and illustrated more than 30 books throughout his life including his "masterpieces" Lanark and Poor Things, which won the Whitbread Novel Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize.

He died on Sunday at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow with his family at his side, the publisher Canongate confirmed.

The "literary giant" created a number of murals around his home city of Glasgow, with several other pieces going on display in galleries including the V&A and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

There will be no funeral for the author and his body will instead be donated to medical science in order to "keep with his principles," his family announced.

The author won the Saltire Society Scottish Lifetime Achievement Award
The author won the Saltire Society Scottish Lifetime Achievement Award. Picture: PA

In a statement shared by Canongate his family said: "Early this morning we lost a deeply loved member of our family. Alasdair was an extraordinary person; very talented and, even more importantly, very humane.

"He was unique and irreplaceable and we will miss him greatly.

"We would like to thank Alasdair's many friends for their love and support, especially in recent years, together with the staff of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Glasgow, who treated him and us with such care and sensitivity during his short illness."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was among those to pay tribute to the polymath.

She tweeted: "Such sad news. Alasdair Gray was one of Scotland's literary giants, and a decent, principled human being.

"He'll be remembered best for the masterpiece that is Lanark, but everything he wrote reflected his brilliance. Today, we mourn the loss of a genius, and think of his family."

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh also took to social media to pay tribute to the renowned writer.

He said: "Alasdair Gray was a unique talent. In Lanark, and 1982 Janine especially, he wrote two of the greatest Scottish novels and influenced a creative generation."

Similarly, Belle And Sebastian singer Stuart Murdoch recognised Gray's character and talent on Twitter: "Farewell to Alasdair Gray, Scotland's great creator.

"We'll miss you for your art, we'll miss you for your stories, we'll miss you for your humanity."

Described by some as the nearest Scotland had to a Leonardo da Vinci, Alasdair Gray was a creative polymath whose work spanned the arts.

He was born on 28 December, 1934, in the Riddrie area of Glasgow and was evacuated to a farm in Auchterarder, Perth and Kinross, during the Second World War.

Gray attended Glasgow School of Art from 1952-57, studying design and mural painting, and went on to make his living from writing, painting and teaching.

His oeuvre include novels, short stories, plays, poetry, works of non-fiction and translations, with his most recent being his interpretation of Dante's Divine Trilogy.

For those wishing to lay their eyes upon his murals, trips to the Auditorium at the Oran Mor venue and The Ubiquitous Chip restaurant in Glasgow are both a great start.

Francis Bickmore, the Glaswegian's editor and publishing director at Canongate, said: "What sad news this is that Alasdair Gray is gone. It seems hard to believe that Alasdair was mortal and might ever leave us.

"No one single figure has left such a varied legacy - or missed so many deadlines - as Alasdair Gray. At least through Gray's phenomenal body of work he leaves a legacy that will outlive us all.

"His voice of solidarity and compassion for his fellow citizens, and his forward-looking vision is cause for great celebration and remembrance."