Alan Sillitoe Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alan Sillitoe (SIHL-ih-toh) is one of England’s best writers of proletarian fiction and the spokesperson for the English working class of the 1950’s and 1960’s. He was born in Nottingham, England, the setting for much of his fiction. The son of Sylvia and Christopher Sillitoe, the latter a tannery worker, he grew up in the slums. Through his family’s struggle for survival during the economic depression of the 1930’s, he gained the subject matter and the political beliefs that found expression in his work. Though an avid student, he left school at fourteen and between 1942 and 1946 worked in a bicycle plant, then in a plywood mill, and later as a lathe operator. He worked as a controller at the Langar Airfield in Nottingham before serving with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Malaya in 1947 and 1948. After his stint with the RAF, he married an American woman.

While in Malaya, Sillitoe began writing, but he destroyed the poems, short stories, and first draft of a novel that he completed while recuperating from tuberculosis. In 1949, following his convalescence, he returned to Nottingham and then traveled to France and Majorca, where he met and became friends with the influential British poet and mythologist Robert Graves, who urged him to write about what he knew best: Nottingham. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was awarded the Authors’ Club Prize as the best English first novel of 1958; the following year, Sillitoe won the Hawthornden Prize for The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. The Nottingham novels and books of poetry that followed his initial success reflect his leftist political views, which were also the subject of The Road to Volgograd, a topographical and ideological journey to Russia.

After 1970, Sillitoe completed his Nottingham trilogy and, while returning sporadically to his Nottingham settings, would use more diverse settings (including Antarctica in The Lost Flying Boat). He also experimented with narrative strategies (as in The Storyteller and Down from the Hill). He was one of the first British stylists to use “metafiction.” Despite the change in setting and style, Sillitoe’s fiction remained...

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Alan Sillitoe Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born into a working-class family in the English industrial city of Nottingham, Alan Sillitoe was educated to the age of fourteen at Radford Boulevard School for Boys and worked in local factories until he joined the Royal Air Force in 1946. He served in Malaya for two years, followed by sixteen months spent in an English sanatorium recuperating from tuberculosis. During this period he read voraciously and began to write. From 1952 to 1958, he lived in France and Spain, where he became friends with Robert Graves. On the publication of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, he returned to England, and he settled in Kent. He traveled frequently and widely and made extended visits to North Africa, Israel, and the U.S.S.R. He married the poet Ruth Fainlight in 1959 and has one son, David. His avocations were wireless telegraphy and collecting maps. Sillitoe died in London on April 25, 2010. He was 82.

Alan Sillitoe Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alan Sillitoe was born in Nottingham, England, on March 4, 1928, one of five children in a working-class family. In the economic depression of the 1930’s, Sillitoe’s father could not find steady work; the family survived by taking odd jobs, receiving public assistance, and doing without. Educated in local schools until he was fourteen, Sillitoe worked at several factory jobs during the years of World War II. These experiences convinced him that only personal rebellion and political revolution could change life for millions of Great Britain’s workers. In 1946 he began a tour of duty with the Royal Air Force in Malaysia as a radio operator. There he began to read literature and witnessed a war between Communist insurgents and the Malaysian government. A routine physical examination before his discharge from the service revealed that Sillitoe had tuberculosis. To pass the time in his hospital bed, he began writing a novel and poems.

Although he destroyed his earliest drafts, Sillitoe continued to write. After his discharge from the air force, he lived, worked, and wrote in France, Spain, and Italy for a decade. This long sojourn was partly for his health and partly a rejection of England. While living in Majorca, he wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. He also was befriended and inspired by the writers Robert Graves and Ted Hughes. In 1959, Sillitoe married Ruth Fainlight, an American poet, with whom he had two children.

In the 1960’s, Sillitoe traveled in the Soviet Union in the hope of finding that life for workers in a socialist society was better. Though his travels generated many poems and a book, he did not find the Soviet Union’s system to be the political or economic solution to his complaints about Great Britain. Later, Sillitoe visited Israel and found much to admire. He also traveled to and lived in Tangier and Spain. He occasionally taught writing, dividing his time between London and France. He made a truce with his native land, signaled by his commentary in two books of photographs that celebrate Nottinghamshire and England’s southeast coast. Sillitoe died in London on April 25, 2010. He was 82.