Sir Arnold Wesker F.R.S.L. is considered one of the key figures in 20th Century drama and is the author of nearly 50 plays, 4 volumes of short stories, 2 volumes of essays, an autobiography, a book on journalism, a children’s book, extensive journalism, poetry and other assorted writings. His plays have been translated into 18 languages, and continue to be performed worldwide. 2006 celebrated his knighthood ‘for services to drama’. 2008 celebrated his 50th year as a playwright.
Arnold Wesker was born on 24 May 1932 in Stepney in the East End of London. His father was a Russian-Jewish tailor and his mother was of Hungarian-Jewish extraction. He spent most of the Second World War in London and in 1943 he went to Upton House Central School in Hackney. He left school in 1948, worked in various jobs including kitchen porter and pastry cook, and was conscripted into the Royal Air Force in 1950, an experience he later wrote about in his play Chips with Everything (1962). He began to write plays and received a bursary from the the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1958. He was Chairman of the British Centre of the International Theatre Institute between 1978 and 1982 and President of the International Playwright’s Committee between 1979 and 1983. He holds honorary doctorates from the University of East Anglia, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, and Denison University in Ohio. The three plays which make up the Wesker Trilogy (1960) – Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots and I’m Talking about Jerusalem – were first performed at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry between 1958 and 1960. The trilogy, which drew on Wesker’s working class Jewish background, was first performed in its entirety at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1960. The Kitchen (1961), first performed in 1959, similarly drew on his own direct experience and was revived by Stephen Daldry at the Royal Court in 1994. In 1961 Wesker played a leading role in the Committee of 100’s demonstrations against the use of nuclear weapons and, together with Bertrand Russell and others, was sentenced to a month in prison. He also became artistic director of Centre 42, a cultural movement for popularising the arts. Chips with Everything, a portrait of life in the RAF, opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, in 1962. Subsequent plays include Their Very Own and Golden City (1966), The Friends (1970), Caritas: A Play in Two Acts (1981), Wild Spring, as published in Wild Spring and Other Plays (1994) and Denial, first staged at the Bristol Old Vic. His book The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel (1997) is an account of the unhappy production of his play Shylock (1980), (previously named The Merchant) on Broadway in 1977, when Zero Mostel died after the first performance. Arnold Wesker has written a number of collections of short stories including Love Letters on Blue Paper: Three Stories (1974) and The King’s Daughters (1998). He published As Much as I Dare: An Autobiography, a memoir covering the early part of his life, in 1994. He has also written screenplays: Lady Othello (an original) in 1982, and an adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novel The Diary of Jane Somers. His recent work includes Barabbas, a short playfor BBC television; Groupie, originally for radio, subsequently for stage; Longitude, a new play; and Grief, libretto for a one-woman opera. In 2005, his first novel, Honey, was published – taking off where his play Roots finishes, continuing the story of Beatie Bryant. His first collection of poetry, All Things Tire of Themselves, was published in 2008. Arnold Wesker is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in the Black Mountains of Wales and was knighted in 2006. 2008 celbrated his 50 years as a playwright with omnibus editions of genres of his works 🙂