‘In admiration...’ a collection of 44 books inscribed to Alasdair Gray by friends, family and, mostly, fellow writers, including a gift from Liz Lochhead, several books about Glasgow, and Gray’s own copy of a work that came out of his Creative Writing teaching at Glasgow University.
There are 15 inscribed volumes of poetry, among them Gray’s own copy of The Knuckle End, a ‘meaty collection of the best new writing in Scotland’. Gray has taped the two volumes together for convenient reading and while browsing his own foreword seems to have left it water-stained - the first book is also signed by several contributors on the first flyleaf. Austin Collings has inscribed his collection book to Gray with a long inspiring quotation from Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano and An Anthology of Scottish Women’s Poets comes with ‘love from Angel, Xmas ‘92’. Writers of the other inscribed volumes of poetry include Frank Kuppner and George Hetherington.
Scottish culture and politics flows through the collection which contains author-inscribed biographies of John Muir, Robert Burns, the sixteenth century Scottish poet, George Buchanan, and the novelist Neil Gunn. Scottish nationalism is another constant, represented here by another Glasgow University colleague, Adam Tomkins whose Our Republican Constitution is inscribed by the author, ‘Alasdair To the Republic!’ All good wishes, Adam. 16 February 2005’ and Mary McCabe’s inscription ‘To Alasdair all the very best and here’s hoping for independence in 2014!’ There is also an inscribed collection of Orkney Photographs and two pictorial guides to Glasgow; Colin Baxter’s work being inscribed via a post-it note on the title page: ‘Dear Alasdair, Here is the book I talked about in our telephone conversation... Love, Mora’.
Among the novels is R W Bucknell’s very scarce work, Glimpses inside the Mind of a Mildly Deranged Person, with a long personal inscription: ‘Alasdair Gray with thanks for the inspiration and forgive me for quoting you on page 226...’ together with an original drawing opposite the inscription. Arabian Nights is inscribed in Gaelic to Alasdair as a gift by Callum Laing. Canongate’s reprint of Gillespie is inscribed by ‘Angel and Chris’ to Alasdair with a high recommendation but the finest association in the collection has to be James Fenton’s The Strength of Poetry inscribed ‘Happy Birthday Alasdair, love and all the very best Liz & Tom’ (Liz Lochhead first worked with Gray on a never-made film in 1972 and was a lifelong friend).
Several of the inscriptions acknowledge the depth of Gray’s inspiration as with David Cromwell’s Guardians of Power: ‘To Alasdair Gray, With very grateful thanks for all the great pleasure and stimulation of your work over many years! Best wishes, David Cromwell’. A Darwinian monograph is simply inscribed in his grandson’s childish hand ‘To Grandpa from Alexander’ on the title page.
Alasdair Gray (1934-2019) was acknowledged as one of the most innovative figures in Scottish literature and culture. A painter, novelist, playwright, poet and editor, Gray often combined his diverse artistic talents within single works to challenge existing forms. The British Council’s biography of him describes how ‘Blending satire and tragedy, realism and fantasy, his work has been credited with spurring a renaissance in Scottish literature (Gray’s success anticipates that of James Kelman, Jeff Torrington and Irvine Welsh).’ These books from his library bear witness to his power to inspire friends, family and fellow writers.