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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