Olivia Laing

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Olivia Laing
Born (1977-04-14) 14 April 1977 (age 46)
Notable workCrudo, The Lonely City
SpouseIan Patterson

Olivia Laing (born 14 April 1977) is a British writer, novelist and cultural critic. She is the author of four works of non-fiction, To the River, The Trip to Echo Spring, The Lonely City, and Everybody, as well as an essay collection, Funny Weather, and a novel, Crudo. In 2018, she was awarded the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for non-fiction and in 2019, the 100th James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Crudo. In 2019 she became an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Olivia Laing grew up in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire.[2] She enrolled at Sussex University to study English, but dropped out to live on a road protest in Dorset.[3] At the age of 20, she spent three months living alone on an abandoned farm near Brighton, an experience she has described as being formative.[4] In her twenties, Laing trained as a medical herbalist.[5]


Between 2007 and 2009, Laing was Deputy Books Editor of The Observer.[6] She writes on art and culture for The Guardian, frieze and New Statesman and has written catalogue essays for many contemporary artists, including Derek Jarman, Chantal Joffe, Wolfgang Tillmans and Andy Warhol.

Laing is the author of four books of nonfiction, each mixing cultural criticism and memoir with elements of biography, psychoanalysis, and travel writing. Her 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.[7] The book was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize[8] and the Dolman Best Travel Book Award.[9]

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking (2013), a finalist for both the Costa Biography Award[10] and the Gordon Burn Prize,[11] employs a similar tack. Travelling across America, Laing explores the difficult relationship between creativity and alcoholism, placing her own experience growing up in an alcoholic family alongside the lives of male alcoholic writers such as John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway. In the book, she praises literature's "power to map the more difficult regions of human experience and knowledge". According to the judges of the Windham-Campbell Prize, "this power to map the difficult, the shameful, and the grotesque, as well as the beautiful and transcendent, is inherent in her own work".[12]

Her third book, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, was aided by research Laing undertook as a recipient of the 2014 Eccles British Library Writer Award[13] and was published in 2016. It was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize[14] and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.[15] It has been translated into eighteen languages.[1] 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, among them Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. The result is a merging of inner and outer realities, a revelatory exploration of the intense feelings of shame that loneliness can provoke as well as a vivid portrait of 1970s and 1980s New York at the peak of the AIDS crisis.[16]

Laing's first novel, Crudo, is a roman-à-clef about the politically turbulent summer of 2017. Written in real time over seven weeks, the novel is also an homage to Kathy Acker, on whom the protagonist is based.[17] It was a New York Times Notable Book of 2018,[18] and was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize.[19] In 2019, Crudo won the 100th James Tait Black Memorial Prize.[20] According to the fiction judge, Dr Alex Lawrie: "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."[21] Writing in The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz described Crudo as "a work of autofiction that captures the apprehension of the present moment."[22] In New Statesman, Sarah Ditum wrote that Laing "uses her style like a magician uses sleight-of-hand, palming away a hinted-at revelation while your attention has been directed towards the dazzling arc of her sentences".[23]

Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency was published in 2020.[24] It is a collection of essays, reviews and other published work that Laing wrote for a variety of publications including frieze, BOMB and The Guardian.[25][26]

Laing's sixth book, Everybody, examines the body and its discontents by way of the renegade psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.[27] It explores the liberation movements of the twentieth century, examining the work and lives of a variety of figures, including Nina Simone, Susan Sontag, Andrea Dworkin and Malcolm X. According to the Financial Times, "Laing's gift for weaving big ideas together with lyrical prose sets her alongside the likes of Arundhati Roy, John Berger and James Baldwin. In other words, she is among the most significant voices of our time."[28]

Personal life[edit]

Laing is married to the poet and academic Ian Patterson.[29] She identifies as trans/non-binary. [30]

Awards and honors[edit]



  • To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface (Canongate, 2011)[32]
  • The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking (Canongate, 2013)[32]
  • The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (Canongate, 2016)[32]
  • Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency (Picador, 2020)[24]
  • Everybody: A Book About Freedom (Picador, 2021)



  1. ^ a b "Olivia Laing". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  2. ^ 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. ^ "Why we should learn to embrace failure | Elizabeth Day". The Guardian. 15 July 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  6. ^ Guardian Profile, The Guardian. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  7. ^ Hoare, Philip, To The River by Olivia Laing: review, The Telegraph, May 11, 2011. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  8. ^ Flood, Alison, Ondaatje prize 2012 goes to debut novel by Rahul Bhattacharya, The Guardian, May 29. 2012. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  9. ^ Flood, Alison, What's the best travel writing for summer 2012?, The Guardian, August 9, 2012. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  10. ^ Brown, Mark, Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist, The Guardian, November 26, 2013. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  11. ^ Taylor, Chris, [1], The Telegraph, August 12, 2014. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  12. ^ Windham-Campbell Prizes, 28 February 2018
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Flood, Alison (7 October 2016). "David Szalay's "unsparing" All That Man Is wins Gordon Burn prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  15. ^ Alter, Alexandra, Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon Among National Book Critics Circle Finalists, The New York Times, January 17, 2017. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  16. ^ Popova, Maria, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, Brain Pickings. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  17. ^ Moore, Suzanne, Crudo by Olivia Laing review – a shimmering experimental novel, The Guardian, June 18, 2018. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  18. ^ New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2018, The New York Times, 19 November 2018
  19. ^ Mars-Jones, Adam, Novel sense of the new: Judging the Goldsmiths Prize The Guardian, September 26, 2018
  20. ^ a b "Tales of love and war win centenary book awards". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  21. ^ Tales of love and war win centenary book awards University of Edinburgh, 21 August 2019.
  22. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra, Crudo is made from the shimmering material of the present The New Yorker, 10 September 2018.
  23. ^ "Olivia Laing's Crudo: the summer of 2017 and the spirit of Kathy Acker". www.newstatesman.com. 20 June 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  24. ^ a b "Funny Weather by Olivia Laing". www.panmacmillan.com. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  25. ^ "Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing – review". The Guardian. 30 March 2020. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Olivia Laing's Prescient Essay Collection Examines the Role of Art in Times of Crisis". Observer. 21 May 2020. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  27. ^ "Wilhelm Reich: The strange, prescient sexologist who sought to set us free". TheGuardian.com. 17 April 2021.
  28. ^ Spence, Rachel (22 April 2021). "Everybody by Olivia Laing — 'freedom is an ongoing labour'". Financial Times.
  29. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra. "Olivia Laing's "Crudo" Is Made from the Raw Material of the Present". Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  30. ^ Regensdorf, Laura. "Olivia Laing Finds Renewal in a Precision Haircut and Sichuan Takeaway". Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  31. ^ Cummings, Mike, Yale awards eight writers $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes, March 7, 2018. Retrieved 27-06-18.
  32. ^ a b c d "Olivia Laing - Literature". literature.britishcouncil.org. Retrieved 1 March 2021.

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