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Olivia Laing (born 1977) is a British writer, novelist and cultural critic. She's the author of three works of non-fiction, To the River, The Trip to Echo Spring and The Lonely City, which has been translated into 15 languages, as well as a novel, Crudo. In 2018 she was awarded the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for non-fiction and in 2019 Crudo won the 100th James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the UK's oldest literary award. She's a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[1]

Olivia Laing
Born1977 (age 41–42)
Notable work
Crudo, The Lonely City
Spouse(s)Ian Patterson[citation needed]

Early life and educationEdit

Olivia Laing grew up in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire.[2] She took up a place to study English at Sussex University but dropped out to become a road protester[3] and briefly live wild in the Sussex countryside.[4]


Between 2007 and 2009 Laing was Deputy Books Editor of The Observer.[5] She writes regularly for The Guardian on art and literature. She has written introductions to the reissues of Close to the Knives by the artist David Wojnarowicz[6] and Modern Nature by the filmmaker Derek Jarman.[7] In 2017 she made a documentary for BBC Radio 4, Vanished into Music, about the musician Arthur Russell[8]

Laing's first book, To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface, was published in 2011. Walking the length of the Ouse, the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941, Laing reflects upon Woolf's life and work and, more generally, upon the relationship between history and place, and the difficulties of biography.[9] The book was highly acclaimed and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize[10] and Dolman Best Travel Book Award.[11]

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking was published in 2013 and garnered many vocal fans including Nick Cave and Hilary Mantel, who described it "as one of the best books I’ve read about the creative uses of adversity".[2] Travelling across America, Laing explores the difficult relationship between creativity and alcoholism, focusing on a cast of six male American writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. It was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award[12] and the Gordon Burn Prize[13] and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2014.[14]

Her third book, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, was aided by research Laing undertook as recipient of the 2014 Eccles British Library Writer Award[15] and was published in 2016. It concentrates on urban loneliness, again using a cast of artists to open up and explore the subject. Examining her own experience of solitude during a period living in New York, Laing considers how the culturally stigmatised condition of loneliness provides new insights into the work of numerous artists for whom the creative act became a means of exploring solitude and forging companionship.[16] It has been translated into 15 languages and was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize[17] and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.[18]

In 2018 Laing published her first novel, Crudo, a genre-defying roman-à-clef about the summer of 2017, a time of personal change and political crisis. Written in real time over seven weeks, the novel is also an homage to Kathy Acker, on whom the protagonist is based.[19] It was a New York Times Notable Book of 2018,[20] and was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize[21]. In 2019 Crudo won the 100th James Tait Black Memorial Prize. According to Fiction Judge Dr Alex Lawrie, of the University of Edinburgh: “This is fiction at its finest: a bold and reactive political novel that captures a raw slice of contemporary history with pace, charm, and wit.” [22] Writing in The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz described Crudo as "a work of autofiction that captures the apprehension of the present moment."[23]

Awards and honorsEdit



  • To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface (Canongate, 2011)
  • The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking (Canongate, 2013)
  • The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (Canongate, 2016)


  • Crudo (Picador, 2018)


  1. ^ Author Biography, Janklow & Nesbit. Retrieved 27-06-2018.
  2. ^ a b Biography, British Council, Literature. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  3. ^ Olivia Laing: ‘I grew wilder. I moved through the wood barefoot, I could see in the dark, The Guardian. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  4. ^ Once upon a life: Olivia Laing, The Guardian, May 15, 2011. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  5. ^ Guardian Profile, The Guardian. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  6. ^ Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, Amazon, March 2nd, 2017. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  7. ^ Olivia Laing:'There's no book I love more than Derek Jarman's Modern Nature, The Guardian, April 27, 2018. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  8. ^ Arthur Russell: Vanished into Music, BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  9. ^ Hoare, Philip, To The River by Olivia Laing: review, The Telegraph, May 11, 2011. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  10. ^ Flood, Alison, Ondaatje prize 2012 goes to debut novel by Rahul Bhattacharya, The Guardian, May 29. 2012. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  11. ^ Flood, Alison, What's the best travel writing for summer 2012?, The Guardian, August 9, 2012. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  12. ^ Brown, Mark, Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist, The Guardian, November 26, 2013. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  13. ^ Taylor, Chris, [1], The Telegraph, August 12, 2014. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  14. ^ The New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2014, The New York Times, December 2, 2014. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  15. ^ a b The two winners of the 2014 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award are announced, British Library, October 29, 2013. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  16. ^ Popova, Maria, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, Brain Pickings. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  17. ^ Flood, Alison, David Szalay's 'unsparing' All That Man Is wins Gordon Burn prize, The Guardian, October 7, 2016. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  18. ^ Alter, Alexandra, Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon Among National Book Critics Circle Finalists, The New York Times, January 17, 2017. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  19. ^ Moore, Suzanne, Crudo by Olivia Laing review – a shimmering experimental novel, The Guardian, June 18, 2018. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  20. ^ New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2018, The New York Times, 19 November 2018
  21. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam, Novel sense of the new: Judging the Goldsmiths Prize The Guardian, September 26, 2018
  22. ^ James Tait Black Memorial Prize 2019
  23. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra, Crudo is made from the shimmering material of the present The New Yorker, 10 September 2018.
  24. ^ Cummings, Mike, Yale awards eight writers $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes, March 7, 2018. Retrieved 27-06-18.

External linksEdit