Profile

Barry Unsworth
Barry Unsworth
Novelist


Past Event: Writers on the Record with Victoria Lautman: Land of Marvels (2009)


Born in 1930, novelist Barry Unsworth grew up in a small mining community in County Durham in the north of England. After studying English at Manchester University and completing two years national service, he lived in France for a year while teaching English. He travelled extensively in Greece and Turkey during the 1960s, teaching at the Universities of Istanbul and Athens.

He was Visiting Literary Fellow at the Universities of Durham and Newcastle and was Writer in Residence at Liverpool University in 1985 and at the University of Lund, Sweden, for the British Council in 1988. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His first novel, The Partnership, was published in 1966. It was followed by The Greeks Have a Word for It (1967), The Hide (1970), and Mooncranker's Gift (1973), winner of the Heinemann Award.

Pascali's Island (1980) is set during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and was later adapted as a film starring Ben Kingsley. The Rage of the Vulture (1982) develops a similar historical narrative through the story of a British spy in Constantinople. Stone Virgin (1985) interpolates the story of a contemporary restorer working on a Venetian Madonna with earlier related episodes set in the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Sugar and Rum (1988) was inspired by Unsworth's residency at Liverpool University and contrasts the city's contemporary problems with its prosperous heritage. Research for the book led him to write Sacred Hunger (1992), a powerful account of the Atlantic slave trade that moves from Liverpool to West Africa, Florida and the West Indies. It was joint winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1992.

More recent novels include Morality Play (1995), a murder mystery set in the fourteenth century, and After Hannibal (1996), a portrait of warring neighbors living in modern Umbria. Losing Nelson (1999) is a portrait of a biographer with an obsessive interest in his subject. His novel The Ruby in her Navel (2006) is set in the twelfth century. His latest novel is Land of Marvels (2009).


Unsworth lives in Umbria, Italy. He was awarded an honorary Litt.D. by Manchester University in 1998.


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Photograph © Hamish Hamilton.