'Cultural trailblazer' Alasdair Gray dies aged 85

'Cultural trailblazer' Alasdair Gray dies aged 85

Writer and artist Alasdair Gray has died aged 85 with the trade paying tribute to the "cultural trailblazer" and his "forward-looking vision".

His publisher Canongate said Gray passed away peacefully on Sunday (29th December) at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in his native Glasgow, in the presence of family.

The publisher passed on a message from his family which reads: "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. 

"In keeping with his principles Alasdair wanted his body donated to medical science, so there will be no funeral."

Francis Bickmore, Gray’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.“

His agent, Jenny Brown, of Jenny Brown Associates in Edinburgh, added: "We mourn Alasdair Gray’s passing, but his genius will live on for readers through his remarkable work. He was a cultural trailblazer: nobody has done more to spur on, and give confidence to, the next generation of Scottish writers.”

Canongate said: "A renowned polymath, Alasdair Gray was beloved equally for his writing and art. His début, Lanark, which Canongate published in 1981, is widely regarded as being one of the masterpieces of 20th-century fiction. It was followed by more than 30 further books, all of which he designed and illustrated, ranging from novels, short story collections, plays, volumes of poetry, works of non-fiction and translations–most recently, his interpretation of Dante's Divine Trilogy. His public murals are visible across Glasgow, with further examples of his work on display in galleries from the V&A to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art."

Many other members of the books trade paid tribute to the author. Writer Ali Smith, writing in the Guardian, said of Gray: "He was an artist in every form. He was a renaissance man. His generosity and brilliance in person–felt by everyone who knew him even a little – were a source of astonishing and liberating warmth."

She said of how his work will live on: "His aesthetic mantra is profoundly communal: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation. That’s his legacy, written on us all, and as ever with Gray, who was a magnificent talent, a modern-day William Blake, it’ll never be more timely, more necessary, more vital, more crucial and generous a gift, than it is right now and for the future."

Journalist Laura Waddell wrote of his influence on younger writers, in her tribute for Prospect Magazine: "We were fortunate to publish Alasdair a few times in Gutter, a decade-old Glasgow-based literary magazine now run by a co-operative board of editors. When reading the submissions for each issue, it’s hard to overestimate how many young writers are inspired by him, walking in their minds the everyday and surreal depictions of the city he conjured up."

The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon tweeted of Canongate's announcement: "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."

Fellow writer A L Kennedy also paid tribute on Twitter. "Just can't say how sad I am that we have lost Alasdair. He was a good, good man–a genuine genius, funny, huge hearted and more. Reading him made me the writer I am. Horrible loss. Horrible."

Meanwhile crime writer and Gray's friend Ian Rankin told BBC Scotland that Gray helped to illuminate everyday Scottish Life on an everyday life. Rankin said: "He could take something very personal to him - his background growing up in Glasgow for example - and make it that people around the world wanted to read it.

"He was part of that thing about taking Scotland out of the kailyard, writing sort of misty stories of Highland villages. Suddenly you were writing about things that meant stuff, writing politically, writing about your own experiences.

Rankin added: "His books were beautiful, they were crafted, they were elegant. He had a sense of fun, he was mischievous, he had this huge intellect but he was a 'lad of pairts'–he could do a little bit of everything and he did it all well."

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival told the BBC: "Scotland has been blessed with a host of great writers over the past 50 years, but if history remembers only one, it will likely be Alasdair Gray.

"He was a bright star in a luminous constellation of northern lights; a game-changer whose boundlessly innovative, cross-disciplinary thinking paved the way for so many others to succeed."

Earlier this month Gray, then 84, won the inaugural Saltire Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Scottish literature. Judges said at the time: "For over 40 years, Alasdair Gray’s plentiful and diverse work has influenced writers and the literary scene worldwide.”