Ali Smith

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Ali Smith

Smith signing books at Edinburgh International Book Festival
Born (1962-08-24) 24 August 1962 (age 60)
Inverness, Scotland
OccupationAuthor, playwright, academic, journalist
Alma materUniversity of Aberdeen
Newnham College, Cambridge
PartnerSarah Wood

Ali Smith CBE FRSL (born 24 August 1962) is a Scottish author, playwright, academic and journalist. Sebastian Barry described her in 2016 as "Scotland's Nobel laureate-in-waiting".[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Smith was born in Inverness on 24 August 1962 to Ann and Donald Smith. Her parents were working-class[2] and she was raised in a council house in Inverness.[3][4] From 1967 to 1974 she attended St. Joseph's RC Primary school, then went on to Inverness High School, leaving in 1980.[5][6]

She studied a joint degree in English language and literature at the University of Aberdeen from 1980 to 1985, coming first in her class in 1982 and gaining a top first in Senior Honours English in 1984.[7] She won the University's Bobby Aitken Memorial Prize for Poetry in 1984.[5]

From 1985 to 1990 she attended Newnham College, Cambridge, studying for a PhD in American and Irish modernism. During her time at Cambridge, she began writing plays and as a result did not complete her doctorate.[5][8]

Smith moved to Edinburgh from Cambridge in 1990 and worked as a lecturer in Scottish, English and American literature at the University of Strathclyde.[6] She left the university in 1992 because she was suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. She returned to Cambridge to recuperate.[5][8]

As a young woman, Smith held several part-time jobs including a waitress, lettuce-cleaner, tourist board assistant, receptionist at BBC Highland and advertising copywriter.[5]


While studying for her PhD at Cambridge, Smith wrote several plays which were staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Cambridge Footlights. After some time working in Scotland, she returned to Cambridge to concentrate on her writing, in particular, focussing on short stories and freelancing as the fiction reviewer for The Scotsman newspaper.[5] In 1995 she published her first book, Free Love and Other Stories, a collection of 12 short stories which won the Saltire First Book of the Year award and Scottish Arts Council Book Award.[9]

She writes articles for The Guardian, The Scotsman, New Statesman and the Times Literary Supplement.[10]

In 2009, she donated the short story Last (previously published in the Manchester Review online) to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the 'Fire' collection.[11]



Short story collections[edit]


  • Stalemate (1986), unpublished, produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe[5][6]
  • The Dance (1988), unpublished, produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe[5][6]
  • Trace of Arc (1989), produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe[5]
  • Daughters of England (1989-1990), unpublished, Cambridge Footlights[14]
  • Amazons (1990), Cambridge Footlights[5]
  • Comic (1990), unpublished, produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe[5][6]
  • The Seer (2001)[15]
  • Just (2005)[15]


  • Shire (2013), with images by Sarah Wood: short stories and autobiographical writing. Full Circle Editions.

Other projects[edit]

  • Ali Smith partnered with the Scottish band Trashcan Sinatras and wrote the lyrics to a song called "Half An Apple", a love song about keeping half an apple spare for a loved one who is gone. The song was released on 5 March 2007, on the album Ballads of the Book.[4]
  • In 2008, Smith produced The Book Lover a collection of her favourite writing including pieces from Sylvia Plath, Muriel Spark, Grace Paley, and Margaret Atwood. It also includes work from writers like Joseph Roth and Clarice Lispector.[16]
  • In 2008, Smith contributed the short story "Writ" to an anthology supporting Save the Children. The anthology is entitled The Children's Hours and was published by Arcadia Books. Foreign editions have been published in Portugal, Italy, China and Korea.
  • In 2011 she wrote a short memoir for The Observer in their "Once upon a life" series: "Looking back on her life, writer Ali Smith returns to the moment of conception to weave a poignant and funny memoir of an irreverent father, a weakness for Greek musicals and a fateful border crossing."[17]
  • In October 2011, Smith published The Story of Antigone, a retelling of the classic created by Sophocles. It is part of the "Save the stories" series by Pushkin Children’s Books and is illustrated by Laura Paoletti.[18]
  • In October 2012, Smith read a sermon at Manchester Cathedral to guests and students, followed by a book signing.[19]
  • In 2013, Smith published Artful, a book based on her lectures on European comparative literature delivered the previous year at St Anne's College, Oxford. Artful was well-received, with one reviewer commenting that, "...her new book, in which she tugs at God’s sleeve, ruminates on clowns, shoplifts used books, dabbles in Greek and palavers with the dead, is a stunner."[20]
  • On 14 May 2013, Smith gave the National Centre for Writing's inaugural Harriet Martineau lecture, in celebration of Norwich, UNESCO's 2012 City of Literature.[21]
  • Smith is also a patron of the Visual Verse online anthology and her piece "Untitled", written in response to an image by artist Rupert Jessop, appears in the November 2014 edition.[22]
  • On 10 September 2015, Smith was nominated Honorary Fellow by Goldsmiths, University of London.[23]
  • In 2011, she contributed the short story "Scots Pine (A Valediction Forbidding Mourning)" to Why Willows Weep, an anthology supporting The Woodland Trust. The paperback edition was released in 2016.[24]
  • In July 2016, Smith was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of East Anglia.[25]
  • Smith is a patron of Refugee Tales.[26] In 2016, Smith's story "The Detainee's Tale" was published by Comma Press in Refugee Tales Volume 1.[27]
  • In May 2021, Smith contributed a short story entitled "The final frontier" to a newborn magazine, The European Review of Books.[28][29]

Personal life[edit]

Smith lives in Cambridge with her partner, filmmaker Sarah Wood.[30][31][32]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 2007, Smith was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature[33] She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to literature.[34][35]

An honorary doctorate (D.Litt) was awarded to her by Newcastle University in 2019.[36]

Literary awards[edit]

Year Published Work Award Category Result Ref
2001 Hotel World Encore Award Won [12]
Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award Won
Booker Prize Shortlist
Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist
2005 The Accidental Costa Book Awards Costa–Novel Won
Booker Prize Shortlist
Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist
2007 Girl Meets Boy Diva magazine readers’ choice Book of the Year Won [37]
Sundial Scottish Arts Council Novel of the Year Won [38]
2011 There But For The The Guardian book review best novels of the year [39]
2012 Artful Goldsmiths Prize Shortlist [40][41]
2014 How to Be Both Women's Prize for Fiction Won [42]
Costa Book Awards Costa–Novel Won [43]
Booker Prize Shortlist [44]
Goldsmiths Prize Shortlist [45][46]
Folio Prize Shortlist [47]
2016 Autumn Booker Prize Shortlist [48]
2020 Summer Orwell Prize Won [49]


  1. ^ "Best books of 2016 – part two". The Observer. 27 November 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2016. She is, of course, Scotland's Nobel laureate-in-waiting.
  2. ^ Begley, Adam (2017). "Ali Smith, the Art of Fiction No. 236". The Paris Review. Summer 2017 (221).
  3. ^ "Ali Smith". Contemporary Writers in the UK. The British Council. Archived from the original on 16 July 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  4. ^ a b Matthews, Elizabeth (30 March 2007). "Novel approach struck a chord with Inverness writer". The Inverness Courier. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury. 2013. ISBN 978-1-4411-5990-8.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Smith, Ali 1962–". Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  7. ^ Germanà, Monica; Horton, Emily (18 July 2013). Ali Smith: Contemporary Critical Perspectives. A&C Black. ISBN 9781441181558.
  8. ^ a b "Ali Smith - Honorary Award Holders, Anglia Ruskin University". Archived from the original on 20 November 2016. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Ali Smith". Guardian News and Media Limited. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  10. ^ Hershman, Tania. "The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith". The Short Review. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  11. ^ "Order your copy of Ox-Tales : Talking Books : Oxfam GB". Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 2010-11-14.
  12. ^ a b c "Ali Smith". Contemporary Writers in the UK. The British Council. Archived from the original on 16 July 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  13. ^ Guest, Katy (3 October 2008). "The First Person and Other Stories, By Ali Smith". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 April 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  14. ^ "Cambridge Footlights - 1980-1989 (Archive)". Cambridge Footlights. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012.
  15. ^ a b "Ali Smith". 24 April 2014. Archived from the original on 17 September 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  16. ^ "The Book Lover by Ali Smith". Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  17. ^ Ali Smith (28 May 2011). "Once upon a life: Ali Smith | Life and style". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  18. ^ "The Story of Antigone by Ali Smith". Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  19. ^ "The Manchester Sermon: Ali Smith, reviewed by Gemma Fairclough - The Manchester Review". The Manchester Review. 19 October 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  20. ^ Cohen, Leah Hager (1 February 2013). "A Light to Read By". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Full text: Brick: a literary journal (Number 92, Winter 2014, pp. 9–27); extract online at
  22. ^ "Untitled by Ali Smith". Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  23. ^ Cox, Sarah (8 September 2015). "Novelist Ali Smith named Honorary Fellow". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  24. ^ Chevalier, Tracy, ed. (2016). Why Willows Weep. London, United Kingdom: IndieBooks. ISBN 9781908041326.
  25. ^ "Day 1 - Ali Smith - UEA". Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  26. ^ "About". Refugee Tales. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  27. ^ "Refugee Tales - Comma Press". Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  28. ^ "Ali Smith | The European Review of Books". Retrieved 22 October 2022.
  29. ^ Grimm, Oliver (23 June 2021). "Eine Revue, um die EU besser zu kritisieren". Die Presse.
  30. ^ Winterson, Jeanette (25 April 2003). "Ali Smith". The Times. Archived from the original on 15 November 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
  31. ^ Noted. "Ali Smith interview". Archived from the original on 28 May 2020. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  32. ^ King-Miller, Lindsay (8 August 2014). "10 Books by Queer Women That Will Change How You See the World". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  33. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  34. ^ "No. 61092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2014. p. N10.
  35. ^ "Order of the Companions of Honour : Members of the Order of the Companions of Honour" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 January 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  36. ^ "Honorary degrees celebrate excellence". Newcastle University. 17 July 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  37. ^ "Girl Meets Boy wins Diva Book Of The Year". The Myths. 17 April 2014. Archived from the original on 3 January 2011. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  38. ^ "Sundial Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year". Scottish Arts Council. Archived from the original on 5 January 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  39. ^ "Books of the year 2011 | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  40. ^ "Jim Crace makes Goldsmiths Prize shortlist". BBC News. 1 October 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  41. ^ "Shortlist 2013". Goldsmiths Prize. 1 October 2013. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  42. ^ Lusher, Adam (3 June 2015). "Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015 winner: Ali Smith triumphs with How to Be Both". The Independent. Archived from the original on 6 May 2022. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  43. ^ "Ali Smith's 'How to be both' takes Costa novel award". Reuters. 5 January 2015. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  44. ^ "Man Booker Prize: Howard Jacobson makes shortlist". BBC News. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  45. ^ "The shortlist for the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize has been announced". New Statesman. 1 October 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  46. ^ "Ali Smith wins Goldsmiths Prize for How to be Both". BBC News. 13 November 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  47. ^ "2015 | The Rathbones Folio Prize". Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  48. ^ Flood, Alison (13 September 2017). "Man Booker prize 2017: shortlist makes room for debuts alongside big names". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  49. ^ "Smith, Yaffa win 2021 Orwell Prizes". Books+Publishing. 28 June 2021. Archived from the original on 28 June 2021. Retrieved 28 June 2021.