Novelist, short-story writer and playwright. Born in Glasgow, the son of a picture framer and restorer, Kelman left school at the age of fifteen to take an apprenticeship in the printing industry. However he left this job to follow his family to the USA, before returning to Scotland (1972) and periods of unemployment interspersed with short-term jobs. He entered Strathclyde University to read philosophy, but gave up his studies having found them lacking relevance. He joined a writing group at the University of Glasgow which brought him into contact with writers such as Alasdair Gray (b.1934) and Tom Leonard (b.1944), both of whom were to co-author works with Kelman.
It was not until 1983 that his first book was published; a collection of short stories Not Not While the Giro, a depiction of working-class life in Scotland in a flowery vernacular tongue, which characterises Kelman's work. His work also shows influences of James Joyce and Anton Chekhov. Other publications quickly followed: his first novel The Busconductor Hines (1984) and A Chancer (1985). Both Greyhound for Breakfast (1987) and A Disaffection (1989), a powerful portrayal of an alcoholic teacher adrift from society, won critical acclaim; the former won the Cheltenham Prize (1987) and latter the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (1989) and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. The Burn (1991), a further collection of short stories, won a Scottish Arts Council book award. His fourth novel How Late it was, How Late, the story of a drunken and unemployed Glaswegian builder and petty criminal who has been lifted by the police, won the Booker Prize in 1994. Kelman's dramatic works include Hardie and Baird and Other Plays (1991).
Kelman lives in Glasgow with his wife and family, firmly established as a leading writer in the language of the streets and a spokesman for the downtrodden and disaffected in Scotland.