Tony Harrison wins David Cohen Prize 2015

Tony Harrison wins David Cohen Prize 2015
Image courtesy of Faber
26 February 2015
Britain's leading poet-playwright, Tony Harrison has been awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature 2015.


The prize, managed by Book Trust, is worth £40,000 and was presented by chair of judges Mark Lawson at a gala ceremony hosted at the British Library this evening.


On winning the prize, Harrison said: 'This award is accepted with enormous gratitude as I approach, with renewed energy, my eighth and I hope most creative decade, with the poems, plays and films flowing till the end.'


Harrison's wide-ranging body of work includes film, theatre and reportage-style poetry, where he addresses issues of class, power and race. Well-known for his out-spoken politics he has written extensively about conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Bosnia.


His poem v., first published in 1985 in the London Review of Books, describing a visit to his parents' grave in a Leeds cemetery 'now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti', was turned into a film by Channel 4 and, now close friend, director Sir Richard Eyre. The second edition of v., published in 1989 by Bloodaxe Books, contains press articles covering the response to the Channel 4 film.


Even though it caused a huge outcry in the 1980s resulting in a debate in Parliament - the controversy was mainly about the amount of swear words in the poem - it went on to win a Royal Television Society Award in 1987.


'Britain's leading poet-playwright'


Tony Harrison, a baker's son, was born in 1937 and grew up in working-class Leeds. He gained a scholarship to Leeds Grammar School and subsequently studied Classics at Leeds University.


Though often highly personal, Harrison has drawn considerably on his northern roots in his writing, which explores his generation's experience of greater social mobility through education. A message that we, Book Trust, support through our various programmes, including The Letterbox Club, Bookstart and Read for My School.


Chair of judges Mark Lawson said:

Tony Harrison is a great poet of the private - in his early work about his upbringing and education in working-class Leeds - but also of the public: addressing social incohesion (in v. and the recent British wars abroad (in Cold Coming.)

As a stage dramatist, he has made classical texts speakable and spoken-about in plays such as his muscular translation of The Oresteia and The Trackers of Oxyrynchus, an original - in every sense - drama spun from a fragment of Sophocles.

Chief Executive of Book Trust, Viv Bird added:

Tony's poetry speaks of his childhood and how he used education and books to excel and eventually become Britain's leading poet-playwright. This rings true with Book Trust's mission to transform lives through reading, celebrate excellence and inspire the readers and writers of the future.

The David Cohen Prize was established in 1991 by David and Veronica Cohen, and Arts Council England, and is recognised as one of Britain's most distinguished literary honours.


The John S Cohen Foundation, which was established in 1965 by David Cohen and his family, funds the winner's prize. It has supported education and the arts, helping composers, choreographers, dancers, biographers, poets, playwrights and actors, among others.


The Prize has in the past been awarded to novelist, dramatists, biographers and essayist. The most recent recipient of the prize was Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, who has recently received a damehood.


Clarissa Luard Award


The winner of the Prize also chooses the recipient of the Clarissa Luard Award, which is worth £12,500. The Award, funded by Arts Council England, is given to a literature organisation that supports young writers and readers or an individual writer under the age of 35. Tony Harrison presented the 2015 Award to The Wordsworth Trust.


The Wordsworth Trust is an educational and historical organisation devoted to English romantic poet William Wordsworth.


On receiving the prize, Director of the Trust, Michael McGregor said:

The Wordsworth Trust is delighted to receive the Clarissa Luard Award and hugely grateful to Tony Harrison for nominating us as the recipient. William Wordsworth wrote, 'Of youthful Poets, who among these Hills / Will be my second self when I am gone.' This award will enable us to continue our engagement with the poets of today, enabling Dove Cottage to be a place where poetry is still created and celebrated.

Find out more about the David Cohen Prize

Selected Poems by Tony Harrison


Plays 1: The Mysteries by Tony Harrison


Plays 2: The Misanthrope / Phaedra Britannica / The Prince's Play by Tony Harrison


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