Local literary hero to be celebrated in Hamilton

Published: Tuesday 13 February 2024

This is a montage of some of the front covers of Robin Jenkins' best known works alongside a black and white image of him.

A South Lanarkshire ‘literary hero’ will be celebrated this month in Hamilton just a stone’s throw from where he went to school.

The Town House library in Cadzow Street will host The Robin Jenkins Lecture to be delivered by Mike Russell, Honorary Professor in the College of Arts, Glasgow University, and former MSP in a free event on the evening of Tuesday 27 February. 

Born and raised in Flemington, just outside Cambuslang, and a former pupil of Hamilton Academy (now Hamilton Grammar) Jenkins is widely regarded as one of the foremost Scottish writers of the second half of the 20th Century. 

His most famous novel, The Cone Gatherers, has become a staple of the English subject curriculum, which has also led to it having been rediscovered and enjoyed by local readers groups. 

And, despite having published more than 30 best-selling fiction novels, Jenkins has been described by journalist Andrew Marr as ‘the best-kept secret in British literature’.

South Lanarkshire Libraries, sponsored by the South Lanarkshire branches of UNISON and the EIS, have set out to change that, by creating this opportunity to learn about, discuss, and celebrate Robin Jenkins almost 20 years since his death.

Explained Maria Moran, Community Librarian at Hamilton Town House library: “Robin Jenkins is a South Lanarkshire literary hero and should be celebrated as such.  

“His books concern questions of morality and reflect the big issues of his time, war and power, poverty, imperialism, and racism, told through the eyes of characters who are authentic and dealing with their own small and personal issues, against that backdrop. 

“Several of his books are set in his native Lanarkshire and the reader can recognise the streets of Rutherglen, Cambuslang, or Hamilton.

“Other books draw on his experiences of working as a teacher in Spain, Malaysia, and Afghanistan but they are settings for characters as real as his Lanarkshire ones. All of his stories have depth, humour, and sadness and are thought-provoking. And they are stunningly well written, able to make you laugh, cry, and think.” 

Stephen Smellie, branch secretary of UNISON added that they and the largest teaching union, the EIS, were delighted to support the bringing of such a prestigious event to the streets where Jenkins lived. 

“UNISON represents many of the staff who work in our libraries and the EIS represents most of the teachers in our schools. Both believe that children, young people, and adults should be encouraged to read; to learn for pleasure, and to connect with the human experience of our neighbours and people throughout the world. 

“We are delighted that Mike Russell has agreed to be our guest speaker and hope that as many people as possible can join him and us on the night. Whether you are a fan of Jenkins’ many books, have an interest in Scottish literature, or just like a good read, this promises to be an event to remember.” 

Jenkins was awarded an OBE in 1999 and the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun prize from the Saltire Society for his lifetime achievement in 2003.  His portrait, by Jennifer McRae, hangs in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland. He died aged 92 in February 2005.

Entry to the event is free, but tickets should be booked in advance through the Hamilton Town House library.