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George Mackay Brown


1921 - 1996

Poet and novelist. Brown was born at Stromness on the mainland of Orkney, the son of a postman. Beginning as a journalist for the Orkney Herald, he suffered from tuberculosis, which interrupted his studies at Newbattle Abbey College, where he had been attracted by Edwin Muir (1887 - 1959), and the University of Edinburgh, where he researched the work of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

A prolific writer who published almost 50 works during his lifetime, his first novel was The Storm (1954). Others include A Time to Keep (1969), which won the Scottish Arts Council Literature Prize, Greenvoe (1972), Magnus (1973) and The Six Lives of Fankle the Cat (1980), together with his autobiography For the Islands I Sing, published posthumously in 1997. His novels, poems and short stories draw on his experiences in Orkney, where he lived and died.

Brown became a close friend of composer Peter Maxwell Davies (1934 - 2016) and the two worked together on several projects. In recognition of his literary talents, he received an OBE in 1974, and was awarded honorary degrees by the Open University (1976), the University of Dundee (1977) and the University of Glasgow (1985). He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1977, awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Golden Bird (1987), and shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Beside the Ocean of Time (1996), which was also named the Scottish Book of the Year by the Saltire Society.

He lies buried in Warbeth Cemetery, overlooking Hoy Sound, following a funeral at St. Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall. His archive is held by the National Library of Scotland.


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