Thursday, October 05, 2017

Happy Birthday to British Author Peter Ackroyd

Photograph: Eamonn McCabe from The Guardian

Peter Ackroyd was born today, October 5, in 1949. He is the English biographer, novelist, and critic with a particular interest in the history and culture of London. His works include novels about English history and culture and is also known for his biographies. He is also noted for the volume of work he has produced, the range of styles, his skill at assuming different voices, and the depth of his research.

His literary career began with poetry, including such works as London Lickpenny (1973) and The Diversions of Purley (1987). In 1982 he published The Great Fire of London, his first novel, which is a reworking of Charles Dickens' novel Little Dorrit. The novel set the stage for the long sequence of novels Ackroyd has produced since, all of which deal in some way with the complex interaction of time and space and what Ackroyd calls "the spirit of place."

Many of Ackroyd's novels play in London and deal with the ever changing, but at the same time stubbornly consistent nature of the city. Often this theme is explored through the city's artists, especially its writers, such as Oscar Wilde in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), a fake autobiography of Wilde.

His fascination with London literary and artistic figures is also displayed in the sequence of biographies he has produced of Ezra Pound (1980), T. S. Eliot (1984), Charles Dickens (1990), William Blake (1995), Thomas More (1998), Geoffrey Chaucer (2004), William Shakespeare (2005), and J. M. W. Turner. 

He is a very prolific writer with 60 published books at last count.  His latest book published this year is Queer City, a history of London from the point of view of its gay population.  

Ackroyd had a long-term relationship with Brian Kuhn, an American dancer he met while at Yale. Kuhn became ill with AIDS and died in 1994.

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