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Five things you (probably) didn’t know about VS Naipaul

  • Published at 01:29 pm November 7th, 2016
Five things you (probably) didn’t know about VS Naipaul

Recently, Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature had social media up in such a frenzy, it's hard to imagine a more divisive literary figure. With the DLF drawing near, it would do well to remember another Nobel Laureate who's spent practically his entire adult life being adored and reviled in equal measures, and has actively courted controversy all through his career.

We're talking, of course, about Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul. Born on August 17, 1932, in Trinidad and Tobago, he rose to fame after moving to the UK at age 22. His grandparents emigrated from India to work as indentured labours in Trinidad's sugar plantations. Here are some interesting facts about VS Naipaul.

He had a nervous breakdown while studying at Oxford, and spent all his money on a trip to Spain

When young Naipaul won a Trinidad Government scholarship that allowed him to study at any institution of higher learning in the British Commonwealth, he opted for Oxford. Once there, however, he quickly became depressed, feeling that his writing was too contrived. In April 1952, he took an impulsive trip to Spain. In a biography, he admits to spending too much money, and describes the episode as a “nervous breakdown.” Despite such early struggles, Naipaul would go on to earn the reputation of being the steeliest of writers.

And while this kind of pace might suggest a rush job, the collection went on to win the Somerset Maugham Award in 1961, the same year he wrote the entirety of his novel A House for Mr Biswas in pencil. Writers and their quirks, right?

Later in life, he would continue to travel extensively through the West Indies, India, South America, the Muslim-majority countries of Asia, the United States, and Africa, and in addition to his novels and short stories, become one of the most famous nonfiction writers of his time.

He wrote his first story collection in five weeks

Most writers spend years in anonymity as several discarded drafts and early works gather dust. Not Naipaul. He banged out the entirety of Miguel Street, a collection of stories set in wartime Trinidad and Tobago, based off his childhood memories -- in just five weeks.

And while this kind of pace might suggest a rush job, the collection went on to win the Somerset Maugham Award in 1961, the same year he wrote the entirety of his novel A House for Mr Biswas in pencil. Writers and their quirks, right?

His first novel was published when he was only 25

At an age when most aspiring writers are only beginning to regret the florid poems of their high-school years, Naipaul’s debut novel The Mystic Masseur was published by André Deutsch, the British publisher who had rejected a collection of his short stories (Miguel Street) thinking an "unknown Caribbean author" would not be profitable, and encouraged the young writer to attempt a novel. If that isn't enough to inspire you, The Mystic Masseur went on to win the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1958, and was later adapted into a film by Ivory Merchant in 2001.

He has a Booker Prize

In a Free State, which won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1971, consists of a framing narrative, involving a visitor to Egypt, and encompasses three short stories, all analogies on the price of freedom. This is arguably one of his lesser-known novels.

...and a knighthood and other awards

That's right. In addition to all the awards and accolades -- Mr Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), won the Hawthornden Prize -- he was knighted in 1989. He would go on to receive the David Cohen British Literature Prize by the Arts Council of England in 1993 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. That trophy shelf must be a heavy one indeed.

Love him for his work, hate his politics, but there’s no denying that he is one fascinating personality. Don’t miss an opportunity to see the man up close during the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016!

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