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IDEX LYON 2016

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30 ans de l'ENS de Lyon
Alan Sillitoe was born in 1928 in a Council house in Nottingham: his father was illiterate and violent, his mother sometimes had to take lovers to be able to feed her children. Sillitoe could never quite realize how, in such conditions, he was able to become a very successful novelist, ‘writing with his guts’, as he used to put it. He had to leave school at the age of 14 to work – like Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of his first novel – at the Raleigh Bicycle factory for the next four years and yet was able to publish two masterpieces: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning in 1958 and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner the following year, with adaptations that became cult films, the first one by Karel Reisz with Albert Finney, the second by Tony Richardson, with Tom Courtenay and Michael Redgrave, “a splendid soliloquy from an anarchist” as Jacques Cabau put it. Sillitoe wrote both screenplays. He soon became one of the most representative Angry Young Men. The result was that he never took himself very seriously and kept making up humorous stories about the people he met in various places all over the world. He used to say, like Arthur Seaton, a new kind of individual working-class anti-hero hating the Establishment in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning: “I’m me and whatever people think I am or say I am, that’s what I am not, because they don’t know a bloody thing about me!” In France, a whole generation of school children enjoyed reading an extract from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner included in set textbooks: “The Telly Boys” where the young boys used to cut off the sound while watching politicians, ridiculously gesticulating during their speeches on ‘the box’. Sillitoe soon communicated his joie de vivre and his never-ending sense of fun to his audience in his many talks all over the world, notably several times at the Sorbonne, with his pipe in his mouth, longing for a shot of vodka afterwards! He would always end his talks with a message in morse, promising his audience to give them his collection of inscribed books (more than 30 novels, six theatre plays, a dozen short stories and poems, five books for children), if only they could decipher his message!

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Vanessa Guignery
Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the ENS de Lyon and member of the Institut Universitaire de France in Paris.
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Mise à jour le 2 juillet 2015
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