Hanif Kureishi Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hanif Kureishi 1954-

British dramatist, novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and short story writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Kureishi's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 64.

With the critical success of his screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette (1986), Hanif Kureishi emerged as a provocative young chronicler of xenophobia, sexuality, and urban adolescent angst in contemporary Britain. His multi-genre creations—including films, novels, short stories, and plays—are largely informed by his own experiences as an English-born Briton of Pakistani descent. Drawing attention to the problem of racial prejudice and cultural displacement among non-white Asians in modern England, Kureishi's darkly comic critiques of postcolonial British society illustrate the confluence and conflicts of ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and class. With London's hedonistic drug and music subculture as a recurring milieu, Kureishi's fiction and films are permeated with references to pop culture trends, fashions, movies, and music, as well as other literary and cultural markers. His multicultural perspective and casts of disparate, unconventional characters underscore the sociopolitical biases and personal ambiguities that shape one's identity in the modern Western world.

Biographical Information

Kureishi was born on December 5, 1954 (some sources say 1956), in the London suburb of Bromley. His Pakistani father, a clerk and political journalist, arrived in England from Pakistan to attend college, and subsequently met Kureishi's white, English mother. During the 1950s and 1960s, England received its first great influx of black and Asian immigrants, and at school Kureishi experienced a backlash of racism from some of the native English. As a teenager, he found an outlet for his emotions in fiction, writing four unpublished novels. He went on to study philosophy at King's College, London. As an apprentice in London theaters, Kureishi spent his time devising plays and, to supplement his income, writing pornography for magazines (under the pseudonym Antonia French). His first play, Soaking Up the Heat (1976), was produced at London's Theatre Upstairs, followed by The Mother Country (1980) at Riverside Studios, for which Kureishi received the Thames Television Playwright award. Kureishi was appointed a writer in residence at the Royal Court Theatre, which produced his play Borderline (1981). During a 1985 trip to Pakistan to visit relatives, Kureishi not only gained insight into Pakistani culture and the experiences of Pakistani immigrants, but also came to accept the English aspect of his identity. The following year My Beautiful Laundrette premiered. Directed by Stephen Frears, the movie was originally made for British television and later released for the theater. Kureishi received several major awards for his contribution, including a Best Screenplay Award from the New York Film Critics Circle and an Academy Award nomination. Kureishi and Frears continued their partnership with Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), before Kureishi took over the directorial duties himself to make London Kills Me (1991), a film based on his screenplay. In between these film productions, Kureishi published his first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), which received a Whitbread Book of the Year Award. He has since written two additional novels and two collections of short stories, and co-edited The Faber Book of Pop (1995).

Major Works

Kureishi's preoccupation with issues such as race, class, and sexuality pervade his plays, motion pictures, and fiction. For his early play Borderline, Kureishi conducted research in the Southall area of London, interviewing Indian and Pakistani immigrants. The drama looks at the situation of these immigrants in post-imperial Britain, examining the conflicts between both immigrants and the native population and immigrants and their Westernized children. The drama Outskirts (1981) focuses on the lives of two former...

(The entire section is 1,601 words.)