Crace, Jim

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The English writer Jim Crace was born on March 1, 1946, at Brocket Hall in Herfordshire to Charles and Edith Jane Crace. Crace was raised on the boundary between city and country in Enfield, North London in a nurturing and well-anchored home. His working-class father, a curious, self-educated, politically-minded atheist, had an immense influence on Crace, as did attending the prestigious Enfield Grammar School. As Crace did not attend his local school, he was on a boundary once again between two distinct classes, and this maneuvering shaped Crace’s world view and informed his later writing. Throughout his teenage years and early adulthood, Crace sympathized with liberal causes and became politically active in the Enfield Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, for which he edited leaflets. After a period of travel and introspection, Crace attended Birmingham College of Commerce (now the University of Central England in Birmingham) and was awarded an external Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of London in 1968. While at university, Crace edited and contributed to the Birmingham Sun, the newspaper of the Guild of Students, University of Aston.

Immediately after graduating from university, Crace joined the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and was sent to Khartoum, Sudan, where he assisted writing and producing educational programs for Sudanese Educational Television. Crace traveled through Africa and briefly taught at a village school called Kgosi Kgari Sechele Secondary School in Molepolole, Botswana. Crace’s exposure to other cultures while living abroad in Africa and later while traveling through North and Central America also inspired his later writings.

Upon returning to Britain in 1970, Crace taught briefly and then worked as a freelance writer, initially for the British Broadcasting Corporation. There he wrote radio scripts for the BBC Schools’ educational broadcasts, many of which incorporated themes related to African culture and history. Crace soon broadened the scope of his writing and turned to short fiction. In 1974, the literary journal The New Review published Annie, California Plates, his first of three short stories to appear in the journal. Crace soon had stories published in Cosmopolitan, Socialist Challenge, the London Review of Books, and Quarto, leading to book offers from agents and publishers. During this time, Crace met a teacher named Pamela Turton whom he married on January 3, 1975. The couple settled in Birmingham, England, and later had two children, Thomas and Lauren. Crace continued writing dramatic and comedic scripts for the radio and even co-wrote teleplays for a possible television series. Although the television scripts were unproduced, two of his radio plays, The Bird Has Flown (1976) and A Coat of Many Colours (1979), aired on BBC 4.

Despite offers from publishers, publication in The New Review led Crace to a freelance career in journalism, and he contributed investigative and feature articles to The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph Magazine, and The Radio Times . He also reviewed books and wrote literary criticism for Quarto, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Sunday Times . Even though Crace was committed to journalism, he grew increasingly frustrated with editors’ tight control over his articles. He accepted advances from the publishers Heinemann (U.K.) and Harper & Row (U.S.) that allowed him to leave journalism and focus on writing his first novel.

The transition from fact-reporting journalism to full-time fiction writing was difficult for Crace, and he initially had trouble focusing his ideas. While providing a rather unfavorable review of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel In Evil Hour, Crace became aware of the power and effectiveness of magic realism. Writing about imagined worlds in realistic--though often fictitious--terms came easily for Crace, and he found his voice and developed his distinct style. When Crace was 40, his first book, Continent (1986), a collection of seven loosely-related stories about an imagined continent, was published and received immediate critical praise, winning the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the David Higham Prize for Fiction, the Guardian Fiction Prize, and a year later, the Premio Antico Fattore.

Crace is regarded as one of Britain’s most original voices through his use of invented language, depiction of city and landscape, and exploration of individual behavior in ever-changing complex societies. Crace is interested in invention, as evidenced by his novel’s convincing but fictitious epigraphs. Though his novels are each very unique, they retain the hallmarks of Crace’s distinct style. As a result, the books have garnered critical success, and Crace has received numerous awards and honors, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ E. M. Forster Prize. His fifth novel, Quarantine (1997), was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Fiction Prize; his next novel, Being Dead (1999), won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Fiction and Book Review Best Books selection, and was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award. In 2000, Crace’s alma mater, the University of Central England in Birmingham, presented him with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University, and in 2002, the University of Birmingham awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Letters. Many of Crace’s works have been adapted to film and theatrical productions and even inspired musical pieces.

Between 1981 and 1983, Crace was Midlands Arts Centre Writer-in-Residence, where he concluded his tenure by founding and directing the Birmingham Festival of Readers and Writers. Crace has often mentored aspiring writers through writer-in-residence and university programs and was the inaugural recipient of the James A. Michener Center for Writers Distinguished Writer-in-Residence award at The University of Texas at Austin. Crace frequently contributes essays and articles for newspapers and magazines and was invited by Médecins Sans Frontières to contribute an investigative report for their series Authors in the Front Line, in which writers travel and bring much-needed attention to the world’s most troubled regions.

The natural world, which features prominently in Crace’s writing, is not only an influence, but an avocation. He is a serious gardener, amateur ornithologist, and landscape painter. Indeed, his family’s annual trips to the Isles of Scilly off England’s southwestern coast have inspired his watercolors and three of his novels. Crace has stated that after finishing his books All That Follows (2010) and a Cracean autobiography provisionally titled Archipelago, he intends to devote more time to painting.

From the guide to the Jim Crace Papers, 1954-2009, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)

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creatorOf Jim Crace Papers, 1954-2009 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
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associatedWith Crace, Jim person
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Journalism--England--20th century
English fiction--20th century
Africa--Travel and description
Authors, English--20th century
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Birth 1946-03-01

Britons

English

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