Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi by Mark Mainz
Hanif Kureishi by Mark Mainz © Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI

Biography

Hanif Kureishi was born in south London in 1954. His mother was English, and his father, who harboured frustrated desires to become a writer, came from a family which had been displaced by the partition of India and Pakistan.

Kureishi went to school in Bromley, and studied philosophy at the University of Lancaster and King’s College London. He enjoyed early success as a playwright, working with the Hampstead Theatre, Soho Poly and the Royal Court. From there, he received a commission from Channel 4 to write the screenplay for what became My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), a film about a gay British Pakistani youth in 1980s London. Directed by Stephen Frears, it won the New York Film Critics Best Screenplay Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. Kureishi’s other screenplays include Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), The Mother (2003) and Venus (2006).

The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) won the Whitbread Award for a first novel. Drawing on Kureishi’s own experiences, it focusses on a bisexual British Asian character called Karim Amir as he explores class, ethnicity, sexuality and culture (both high and pop) in late 20th-century London. The novel was adapted into a television series with a soundtrack by David Bowie in 1993.

A second novel, The Black Album (1995) deals with Islamic fundamentalism and freedom of speech, and was adapted for the stage in 2009; a third, Intimacy (1998), concerns a man contemplating leaving his wife and children. A film of the same name, drawing on Kureishi’s stories, was made in 2001. Kureishi’s other novels include Gabriel’s Gift (2001), The Body (2003), Something to Tell You (2008) and The Last Word (2014).

Having been the victim of a suspected fraud in 2012, he turned the experience into a short pamphlet called A Theft: My Con Man (2014). In 2013, his film Le Week-end – part of an ongoing collaboration with the director Roger Michell – was released.

Kureishi is often categorised alongside, for example, Salman Rushdie, as a ‘commonwealth writer’. He has commented that his writing of the British Asian experience ‘all came out of E P Thompson’, the English social historian and author of The Making of the English Working Class (1963), particularly ‘the idea that ordinary people have their own history’. Other stated influences include the British comic writer P G Wodehouse and the American novelist Philip Roth.

He was appointed CBE in 2008 and sold his archive to the British Library in 2014.

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