• Birth—September 26, 1961
• Where—North London, England, UK
• Education—Oxford University
• Awards—Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Aga Khan
Prize for Fiction; Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize
• Currently—lives in Stockwell, South London, England
William Woodard "Will" Self is an English author, journalist and television personality. He is the author of nine novels, five collections of shorter fiction, three novellas and five collections of non-fiction writing, of which his novel Umbrella was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His work has been translated into 22 languages.
His fiction is known for being satirical, grotesque, and fantastical, and is predominantly set within London. His fiction often deals with such themes as mental illness, illegal drugs and psychiatry. Self's regular columns for Building Design on the built environment, and for the Independent Magazine on the psychology of place brought him to prominence as a thinker concerned with the politics of urbanity.
Self is a regular contributor to publications including Playboy, Harpers, New York Times and London Review of Books. He currently writes two fortnightly columns for New Statesman, and over the years he has been a columnist for The Observer, The Times and the Evening Standard. He is a regular contributor on British television, initially as a guest on comic panel shows and, more lately, on serious political programs. He is also a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4.
Self was born and raised in North London. His parents were Peter Self, Professor of Public Administration at the London School of Economics, and Elaine (nee Rosenbloom), an American from Queens, New York, who worked as a publisher's assistant. His father was from an Anglican family and his mother was Jewish.
As a child, Self spent a year living in the U.S.—in Ithaca, in upstate New York. His parents separated when he was nine and divorced when he was eighteen. Self was a voracious reader from a young age. At ten an interest in science fiction grew, with notable works such as Frank Herbert's Dune, J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick—reflecting the precociousness of Self's reading. Into his teenage years, Self claimed to have been "overawed by the canon," stifling his ability to express himself. Self's dabbling with drugs grew in step with his prolific reading: he started smoking marijuana at the age of twelve, graduating through amphetamines, cocaine, and acid to heroin, which he started injecting at eighteen.
Of Self's background Nick Rennison has written that he:
Self is sometimes presented as a bad-boy outsider, writing, like the Americans William S Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr, about sex, drugs and violence in a very direct way. Yet he is not some class warrior storming the citadels of the literary establishment from the outside, but an Oxford educated, middle-class metropolitan who, despite his protestations to the contrary in interviews, is about as much at the heart of the establishment as you can get, a place he has occupied almost from the start of his career.
After graduating from Oxford, Self worked for the Greater London Council, including a period as a road sweeper, while living in Brixton. He then pursued a career as a cartoonist for the New Statesman and other publications and as a stand-up comedian. In 1986 he entered a treatment centre, where he claims that his heroin addiction was cured. Then "through a series of accidents," he ended up running a small publishing company.
The publication of his short story collection The Quantity Theory of Insanity brought him to public attention in 1991. Self was immediately hailed as an original new talent by Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge, A. S. Byatt, and Bill Buford. In 1993 he was nominated by Granta magazine as one of the 20 "Best Young British Novelists." Conversely, Self's second book, My Idea of Fun, was "mauled" by the critics.
He gained some notoriety in 1997 when he was sent by the broadsheet The Observer to cover the election campaign of John Major and was caught by a rival journalist using heroin on the Prime Minister's jet. He was fired as a result. He says that he has abstained from drugs, except for caffeine and nicotine, since 1998.
Self has made many appearances on British television, especially as a panellist on Have I Got News for You and as a regular on Shooting Stars. Since 2008 Self has appeared five times on Question Time. Since 2007, Self has later stopped appearing in Have I Got News for You, stating the show has become a pseudo-panel show.
Since 2009 Self has written two alternating fortnightly columns for the New Statesman. The Madness of Crowds explores social phenomena and group behaviour, and in Real Meals he reviews high street food outlets.
In 2012, Self was appointed Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. In July 2012, Self received his first Man Booker Prize long list nomination for Umbrella, which the Daily Telegraph described as "possibly Self's most ambitious novel to date." The book was later placed on the prize shortlist.
Self was married from 1989 to 1997 to Kate Chancellor. They have two children, a son Alexis and a daughter Madeleine. In 1997, Self married journalist Deborah Orr, with whom he has sons Ivan and Luther. His brother is the author and journalist Jonathan Self. He lives in Stockwell, South London.
Self has described himself as a Psychogeographer and modern flaneur and has written about walks he has taken. In December 2006, he walked 26 miles from his home in South London to Heathrow Airport. Upon arriving at Kennedy Airport he walked 20 miles from there to Manhattan.
Self is 6' 5" tall, collects and repairs vintage typewriters and smokes a pipe; he claims that a psychologist once described him as schizoid personality and borderline personality.
1991: Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for The Quantity Theory of Insanity
1998: Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from The Paris Review for Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys
2008: Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction for "The Butt"
Self has been shortlisted three times for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award: in 2002 for Dorian, in 2004 for "Dr Mukti" in Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe and in 2006 for The Book of Dave. (Author bio from Wikipedia.)
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