|Born||5 December 1954|
Bromley, South London, England
|Occupation||Playwright, screenwriter, novelist, film director|
|Alma mater||King's College London|
|Literary movement||Postcolonial literature|
Hanif Kureishi, CBE (born 5 December 1954) is a British playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker and novelist of South Asian and English descent. In 2008, The Times included Kureishi in its list of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
Kureishi was born in Bromley, South London to a Pakistani father, Rafiushan (Shanoo) Kureishi, and an English mother, Audrey Buss. His father was from a wealthy Madras family, most of whose members moved to Pakistan after the Partition of British India in 1947. Rafiushan came to the UK in 1950 to study law but due to financial reasons he worked at the Pakistani embassy instead. Here he met his wife-to-be, Buss. He wanted to be a writer but his ambitions were frustrated. The couple were married, the family settled in Bromley where Kureishi was born. In an interview, Kureishi notes:
My [paternal] grandfather, an army doctor, was a colonel in the Indian army. Big family. Servants. Tennis court. Cricket. Everything. My father went to the Cathedral School that Salman Rushdie went to. Later, in Pakistan, my family were close to the Bhuttos. My uncle Omar was a newspaper columnist and the manager of the Pakistan cricket team...My grandfather, the colonel, was terrifying. A hard-living, hard-drinking gambler. Womanising. Around him it was like The Godfather. They drank and they gossiped. The women would come and go.
Hanif Kureishi attended Bromley Technical High School and studied for A-levels at Bromley College of Technology. While at this college, he was elected as student union president (1972) and some of the characters from his semi-autobiographical work The Buddha of Suburbia are from this period. He went on to spend a year studying philosophy at Lancaster University, then withdrew. Later he attended King's College London and earned a degree in philosophy.
Kureishi started his career in the 1970s as a pornography writer, under the pseudonyms Antonia French and Karim. He went on to write plays for the Hampstead Theatre, Soho Poly, and by the age of 18, was with the Royal Court. He wrote My Beautiful Laundrette in 1985, a screenplay about a gay Pakistani-British boy growing up in 1980s London for a film directed by Stephen Frears. The screenplay, especially the racial discrimination experienced, contained elements from Hanif's experiences as the only Pakistani student in his class at school. It won the New York City Film Critics Best Screenplay Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He also wrote the screenplay for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). His book The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) won the Whitbread Award for the best first novel and was made into a BBC television series with a soundtrack by David Bowie. 1991 saw the release of the feature film titled London Kills Me, written and directed by Kureishi.
His novel Intimacy (1998) revolved around the story of a man leaving his wife and two young sons after feeling physically and emotionally rejected by his wife. This created some controversy as Kureishi recently had left his own partner (the editor and producer Tracey Scoffield) and two young sons; it was assumed to be at least semi-autobiographical. In 2000/2001, the novel was adapted into the film Intimacy by Patrice Chéreau, which won two Bears at the Berlin Film Festival: a Golden Bear for Best Film and a Silver Bear for Best Actress (Kerry Fox). It was controversial for its explicit sex scenes. The book was translated into Persian by Niki Karimi in 2005.
Kureishi's drama The Mother was adapted to a movie by Roger Michell, which won a joint First Prize in the Director’s Fortnight section at Cannes Film Festival. It showed a cross-generational relationship with changed roles: a 70-year-old English lady and grandmother (played by Anne Reid) who seduces her daughter's boyfriend (played by Daniel Craig), a 30-year-old craftsman. Explicit sex scenes were shown in realistic drawings only, thus avoiding censorship. He wrote the 2006 screenplay Venus, and for his performance in this movie, Peter O'Toole received Oscar, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Golden Globe nominations in the best actor category.
A novel titled Something to Tell You was published in 2008. His 1995 novel The Black Album, adapted for the theatre, was performed at the National Theatre in July and August 2009. In May 2011, he was awarded the second Asia House Literature Award on the closing night of the Asia House Literary Festival where he discussed his Collected Essays (Faber).
Kureishi has written non-fiction, including autobiography. As noted by Cathy Galvin in The Telegraph: "But at the core of his life, as described in his memoir My Ear at His Heart is Kureishi’s relationship with his father, Rafiushan, who died in 1991."
Kureishi, who is bisexual, has twin boys (from his relationship with film producer Tracey Scoffield) and a younger son. Kureishi currently lives in West London. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours. In 2013, Kureishi lost his life savings, intended to cover "the ups and downs of being a writer", in a suspected fraud. Although he acknowledges his father's Pakistani roots (originating in Madras, in British India, present-day Chennai, India), he rarely visits Pakistan. Upon a 2012 visit sponsored by the British Council, he acknowledged that it was his first trip to Pakistan in 20 years.
Kureishi's family have accused him of exploiting them with thinly disguised references in his work; Kureishi has denied the claims. His sister Yasmin has accused him of selling her family "down the line". She wrote, in a letter to The Guardian, that if her family's history had to become public, she would not stand by and let it be "fabricated for the entertainment of the public or for Hanif's profit". She says that his description of her family's working-class roots are fictitious. Their grandfather was not "cloth cap working class", their mother never worked in a shoe factory, and their father, she says, was not a bitter old man. Yasmin takes issues with her brother for his thinly disguised autobiographical references in his first novel The Buddha of Suburbia as well as for the image of his own past that he portrays in newspaper interviews. She wrote: "My father was angry when The Buddha of Suburbia came out as he felt that Hanif had robbed him of his dignity, and he didn't speak to Hanif for about a year." Kureishi and his father did not speak for many months during the controversy. There was further furor with the publication of Intimacy as the story was assumed to be autobiographical.
In 2013, Kureishi was appointed as a professor in the creative writing department at Kingston University in London, where he was a writer in residence. However, at The Independent Bath Literature Festival, 2 March 2014, he stated that creative writing courses were a "waste of time" and commented that 99.9% of his students were talentless. In 2014, the British Library announced that it would be acquiring the archive of Kureishi's documents spanning 40 years of his writing life. The body of work will include diaries, notebooks and drafts.
Major influences on Kureishi's writing include P.G. Wodehouse and Philip Roth. Kureishi's uncle was the writer, columnist and Pakistani cricket commentator and team manager Omar Kureishi. The poet Maki Kureishi was his aunt.