IN MEMORIAM MIKE HART
photo via John Hart, taken from Peter Manson's page.
May 20 1948 -- November 15 2002
For details of a celebration of Mike Hart, in London, on January 27th. click HERE.
To visit a page of memories and writings about Mike (thanks to John Hart and Peter Manson) click HERE.
Obituary from "The Guardian", London.
Bohemian bookseller and champion of new fiction
Monday December 9, 2002
Mike Hart, who has died of cancer aged 54, was a man who worked in a bookshop. He was also among the greatest influences on a generation of new British writers, more so perhaps than any literary critic or editor.
For 20 years, Mike, a stocky Glaswegian, presided over the fiction and poetry department of Compendium bookshop in Camden Town, north London, which from its opening in 1968 until its closure in 2001 was Britain's pre-eminent radical bookstore. Whether you wanted books on anarchism, drugs, poststructuralism, feminism or Buddhism, Compendium was the place to go. Under Mike's supervision, its modern fiction department was its greatest strength, and the tradition of bohemian bookselling was carried forward into the 1980s and 1990s.
When Mike took over the department in the early 1980s, British fiction was in a dismal, class-bound rut. Mike helped to change all that. His enthusiasms included then unheralded American thriller writers such as Elmore Leonard and George V Higgins; London writers from the forgotten Patrick Hamilton to the unknown Iain Sinclair. A new Scottish writer called James Kelman was also a favourite, as was the great African-American writer Chester Himes. If these writers have emerged from the margins to become major players in the literary landscape it is in no small part due to Mike's efforts.
To walk into Compendium, survey the novels on display and ask Mike's advice was to enter a new world of fiction. The shop became the haunt of an unlikely mixture of more or less literary luminaries, from Nick Cave to Ben Okri, Ivor Cutler to Kathy Acker.
Thanks to Mike, and others, Camden Town in the 1980s became a kind of counter-cultural nexus: a place where you could drift from record shop to caff to Compendium and thence to the pub. There you would find Mike at the heart of a group of autodidacts, musicians, writers, lowlifes and drunks whose house band was the Pogues and whose cultural heroes were Jim Thompson, Hank Williams, Tom Raworth and Little Willie John.
A GP's son, born in Clydebank, Glasgow, Mike was the eldest of four children. After local schools he went on to Glasgow Art School, before moving to London in the early 1970s. He did odd jobs and then took a history degree at North London Polytechnic, where he met his wife Angela. They split up in the late 1970s, but he maintained a close relationship with his son. He combined working on building sites with running a Camden Market stall, before Compendium in 1982.
As the 1980s moved into the 1990s, Camden became a magnet for the world's teenagers and Compendium underwent a facelift. Mike formalised its literary scene by initiating regular readings in the bookshop, something of an innovation at the time. Visiting Americans, from old beat heroes like Lawrence Ferlinghetti to new literary lions like Walter Mosley, read there; so too did the London writers Iain Sinclair, Martin Millar and Derek Raymond.
By the end of the 1990s, Camden Town was thoroughly commercialised, its last remaining outposts of bohemianism swamped by endless leather jacket stores, and it was with a sense of bowing to the inevitable that Compendium closed its doors.
Mike moved to the independent crime specialists Murder One. With his death, the literary world lost a sweet and genuinely unselfish man who freely gave of his vast knowledge and delighted in the achievements of those he influenced so profoundly.
He is survived by his son Stephen.
Patrick Michael Hart, bookseller, born May 20 1948; died November 15 2002