Inside 'wonderfully rich' Alasdair Gray archive at National Library

The collection lends a 'fascinating' insight into the mind of the artist and author, curator Dr McIlroy said.

Final part of Alasdair Gray archive joins acclaimed novel Poor Things at National Library of Scotland

Alasdair Gray’s “wonderfully rich” archive has now been completed with the final batch of material arriving at the National Library of Scotland.

Work by the artist, author and playwright over the last few decades now lies with the Edinburgh institution, which has his largest and most comprehensive collection of his literary and personal documents.

After his passing four years ago, the Library continued working with the Estate of Alasdair Gray via his son, Andrew, to ensure public access to Gray’s vast and fascinating working material and correspondence for current and future generations to explore.

The vast archive also includes the manuscript and early screenplay drafts by Gray for his novel Poor Things – with the film adaptation earning a several awards at the Golden Globes earlier this month.

Mr Gray said: “Alasdair through a combination of financial necessity and frequent reorganisation of his studio has, over the years, contributed a large quantity of correspondence, diaries and manuscripts to the Library.

“He would be happy that his collection has remained in Scotland and that in line with his socialist principles, his papers will be accessible to the public for the purposes of research, education and amusement.”

The National Library of Scotland has bought the last and final tranche of archive material by renowned Poor Things author, artist and playwright, Alasdair Gray.National Library of Scotland

Alasdair Gray was first contacted by curators in the early 1980s, requesting documents to begin an archive.

The famed writer turned up to the door holding a “rucksack filled with material,” thus beginning a long relationship with the Library.

There are short stories, screenplays, radio adaptations, artwork and photographs from his childhood and school days which lend in-depth insight into Gray’s brilliant mind.

Manuscripts curator Dr Colin McIlroy said: “We look to secure archives all of Scottish significant writers.

“We’ve been working with him since 1984 to collect his archive. We have 31 batches of materials which have come to us over the years.

“A writer of such significance attracts a lot of attention from readers and people in the academic world, fans of fiction. He has a huge following here in Scotland and further afield.

“During his lifetime we had the privilege of his acquaintance, and it was clear that he lived and breathed art, as much as he lived and breathed his home city.

“His literary and artistic work is intrinsically informed by and deeply embedded in Glasgow, where – aside from a spell in Wetherby during the Second World War – he lived and worked his whole life.”

. ‘Poor Things' scooped major awards at the Golden Globes earlier this monthSearchlight

New additions to the archive include drafts and working manuscripts of Gray’s writings including illustrated notebooks and film storyboards.

There is also correspondence with publishers, literary agents, writers, artists, and friends, as well as extensive files of research material, designs and drawings, printed material and ephemera (especially related to exhibitions and theatre productions), and a selection of annotated books from Gray’s own library.

Some of the Alasdair Gray archive is available for consultation at the Library’s reading rooms in Edinburgh.

Dr McIlroy added: “It’s essential we make this available so everyone can get chance to see his creative process, to preserve these for memories for the nation.

“People want to get behind the curtain and see the process going on, how he approached writing his novels, the various iterations.

Scottish author Alasdair GrayGetty Images

“He is a fascinating character, so it’s crucial we do our best to make this material available for anyone who wants to see it.

“We are deeply honoured to continue to care for his artistic and personal effects.

“Providing public access to his archive will ensure Gray lives on in our collective psyche – both in Scotland and internationally – for many decades to come.”

With more than seven decades’ worth of material, the Library is currently fundraising to hire a cataloguer to speed up the process of making all of Gray’s material available in the reading rooms.

Cataloguing will also enable the Library to engage people with the archive material through such things as exhibitions and online content.

For information on the fundraising campaign and to donate, visit

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