Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing is a cartographer of human emotion, mixing memoir, biography, and critical engagement with an acute sense of place; through the arts, she searches the depths of the self.

Critic and writer Olivia Laing is the author of three books of nonfiction, each blending cultural criticism and memoir with elements of psychoanalysis, science writing, and travelogue. Laing’s most recent work, The Lonely City (2016), was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and has been translated into 14 languages. The book describes her experiences living in New York City and her attempts to master what she calls “the art of being alone.” Beginning with an examination of her own particular feelings of isolation, Laing goes on to consider how other artists—including Henry Darger, Edward Hopper, and Andy Warhol—transmuted loneliness into art. 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. The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), a finalist for both the Costa Biography Award and the Gordon Burn Prize, employs a similar tack, as Laing places her own experience growing up in an alcoholic family alongside the lives of male alcoholic writers such as John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. In this book, Laing praises literature’s “power to map the more difficult regions of human experience and knowledge.” This power to map the difficult, the shameful, and the grotesque, as well as the beautiful and transcendent, is inherent in her own work. Laing lives in Cambridge, England, and writes on art and culture for many publications, including The Guardian, The New Statesman, and The New York Times. Her debut novel Crudo was published by Picador and W. W. Norton & Company in June 2018.

I barely have words to express how thrilled I am: it means a great deal to have my work, which is so much about transgression and difficult feelings, recognized in this way. I’m also intensely moved to be a recipient of a prize that honors the loving queer relationship between Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell. OLIVIA LAING