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James Kelman Biography

(1946– ), An Old Pub Near the Angel and Other Stories, Not Not While the Giro

Scottish novelist, born in Govan, Glasgow, one of five sons of a frame-maker and picture restorer. He left school at 15 to serve an apprenticeship as a compositor, but abandoned it two years later when his family emigrated to America. He soon returned to Scotland and subsequently worked in Glasgow, Manchester, and London in a variety of manual jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment. At 28, he studied English and Philosophy at Strathclyde University, but left during the third year. Kelman began writing seriously in his early twenties, but had no success with British publishers. His first book, An Old Pub Near the Angel and Other Stories, was published by a small American press in 1970, and Not Not While the Giro (1983), a collection of stories, was brought out by Polygon, Edinburgh University's student-run publishing company. Recognition of his uncanny ability to translate the workings of the mind and the spoken language of Glasgow people on to the page was gradual. His first published novel, The Busconductor Hines (1984), is a compassionate, but challenging, narrative, tracing the daily grind of a young man working on the Glasgow buses. It was ridiculed by some sections of the English literary establishment, and A Chancer (1985) fared little better, but Kelman nevertheless acquired a cult following. The reception was warmer for the volume of scurrilously funny short stories, Greyhound for Breakfast (1987), and A Disaffection (1989), a beautifully sustained evocation of the life of disenchanted schoolteacher, was widely acknowledged as a work of linguistic virtuosity. The Burn (1991) collects stories of Scottish life in Kelman's inimitable style; Some Recent Attacks (1993) contains essays and journalistic pieces that range from aspects of the Rushdie affair to the abuse of workers' rights in insanitary factories. How Late It Was, How Late (1994; Booker Prize), his most acclaimed novel, follows an ex-convict on his blundering—literally, as he suffers from a loss of sight after a drinking bout—path down Glasgow's meanest streets. Customary echoes of Beckett and Kafka are leavened by Kelman's own brand of dour Glasgow humour and his distinctive use of argot and dialect.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Patrick Kavanagh Biography to Knocknarea Sligo