David Cohen Prize 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.
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.
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 Booktrust's mission to transform lives through reading, celebrate excellence and inspire the readers and writers of the future.
Mark Lawson is a journalist, broadcaster and author.
He is a columnist and feature writer for The Guardian, columnist for the New Statesman and theatre critic of The Tablet. As a writer-presenter in TV and radio, his work includes Front Row and Capturing America: A History of Modern American Literature (all BBC Radio 4) and the TV interview series Mark Lawson Talks To...... for BBC4. He presented BBC2's weekly arts round up from 1993 to 2005 under the titles Late Review, Review and Newsnight Review. He has published five works of fiction including Bloody Margaret, Idlewild, Going Out Live, Enough is Enough and, most recently, The Deaths - and a travel book: The Battle for Room Service. He has written many dramas for radio - including The Third Soldier Holds His Thighs and What Did I Say? - and for TV: The Vision Thing, Absolute Power. He has chaired the David Cohen Prize since 2011.
Dame Gillian Beer
Dame Gillian Beer is King Edward VII Professor Emeritus at the University of Cambridge and past-President of Clare Hall college.
She was recently for several years the Andrew Mellon Senior Scholar at the Yale Center for British Art. She has twice served on the Booker Prize in the 1990s, once as Chair, and has also judged the Orange Prize (now called Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction). Among her books are Arguing with the Past (1988), Darwin's Plots (3rd edition 2009), Virginia Woolf: the Common Ground (1996) and Jabberwocky and Other Nonsenses: the collected and annotated poems of Lewis Carroll (2012).
She is President of the British Association for Literature and Science and past-President of the British Comparative Literature Association. She holds a number of honorary degrees, among them from Oxford, the Sorbonne, and Harvard. She lives with her husband in Cambridge and enjoys the company of friends, family, and grandchildren.
Adam Begley is an author and critic.
For twelve years he was the books editor of The New York Observer and he is the author of the biography Updike (Harper, 2014). With Ed Sorel he wrote Certitude: A Profusely Illustrated Guide to Blockheads and Bullheads, Past and Present (Harmony, 2009); and with Laura Miller he edited The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors (Penguin, 2000). In the 1990s he was a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine; Mirabella, where he wrote a monthly book column; and Lingua Franca, where he was a contributing editor.
He has written book reviews for The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and the Financial Times. A graduate of Harvard College, he received a doctorate in American Literature from Stanford University in 1989. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2010 and a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography in 2011. Born in Boston, MA, in 1959, he has lived in England since 1997.
Melissa Benn is a writer of non-fiction and fiction. Her journalism and essays have appeared in several anthologies on contemporary culture and politics and in numerous publications including The Guardian, Independent, London Review of Books, Women: A Cultural Review, New Statesman and Public Finance.
She has published seven books including two novels, Public Lives (1995), described by Margaret Forster as 'remarkably sophisticated for a first', and One of Us (2008) which was shortlisted for a British Book Award.
Her non-fiction work includes Madonna and Child: Towards a New Politics of Motherhood (1998), School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education (2011) and What Should We Tell Our Daughters? The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female (2013) which was shortlisted for a Politico's Political Book of the Year Award in early 2014.
A frequent public speaker and broadcaster Melissa has written and presented several Radio Four programmes, including a three- part study of forgiveness in personal and political life, and has appeared at the Hay, Edinburgh, Cambridge and Bath literary festivals, among many others.
(Picture courtesy of Jonathan Ring)
Susannah Clapp has been the theatre critic of The Observer since 1997.
She helped to set up the London Review of Books, has worked as a publisher's reader and editor, as the radio critic of The Sunday Times, also as the theatre critic for the New Statesman and Radio 3's Nightwaves. She is a regular broadcaster on Radios 3 and 4, for which she has scripted and presented features. She is the author of With Chatwin (Vintage) and A Card from Angela Carter (Bloomsbury).
Leo Robson is a freelance journalist specialising in literature and the arts.
He is lead fiction reviewer for the New Statesman. He has served as television critic for the Financial Times and film critic for the Times Literary Supplement, and now contributes regularly to The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he received the Best Critic prize at the Guardian Student Media Awards. He lives with his family in West London.
Kamila Shamsie is the author of six novels, most recently A God in Every Stone.
Her previous novel, Burnt Shadows, has been translated into more than 20 languages and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Three of her other novels (In the City by the Sea, Kartography, Broken Verses) have received awards from the Pakistan Academy of Letters. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and one of Granta's 'Best of Young British Novelists', she has judged several literature prizes, including the IMPAC Literary Award, the BBC Short Story Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award.
Michael Symmons Roberts
Michael was born in 1963 in Preston, Lancashire, UK.
His poetry has won the Forward Prize, the Costa Poetry Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and been shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize and the TS Eliot Prize. He has received major awards from the Arts Council and the Society of Authors.
His continuing collaboration with composer James MacMillan has led to two BBC Proms choral commissions, song cycles, music theatre works and operas for the Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera, Boston Lyric Opera and Welsh National Opera. Their WNO commission The Sacrifice won the RPS Award for opera, and their Royal Opera House / Scottish Opera commission Clemency was nominated for an Olivier Award. His broadcast work includes A Fearful Symmetry for Radio 4, which won the Sandford St Martin Prize, and Last Words commissioned by Radio 4 to mark the first anniversary of 9/11. He has published two novels, and is Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Photo courtesy of Getty images
Blake Morrison is a poet, novelist and the author of two bestselling memoirs, And When Did You Last See Your Father? and Things My Mother Never Told Me. His novel The Last Weekend was adapted for television last year; his next book will be a collection of poems, Shingle Street, out next spring. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.
About the David Cohen Prize 2015
Celebrating a lifetime’s achievement in literature
Established in 1993, the David Cohen Prize for Literature is one of the UK’s most distinguished literary prizes. It recognises writers who use the English language and are citizens of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, encompassing dramatists, as well as novelists, poets and essayists. Former winners include V S Naipaul, Harold Pinter, William Trevor, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney and, most recently in 2013, Hilary Mantel.
The biennial prize, of £40,000, is for a lifetime’s achievement and is donated by the John S Cohen Foundation. Established in 1965 by David Cohen and his family, the trust supports education, the arts, conservation and the environment. Arts Council England provides a further £12,500 (The Clarissa Luard Award) to enable the winner to encourage new work, with the dual aim of promoting young writers and readers.
Previous winners of the David Cohen Prize for Literature and recipients of the Clarissa Luard Award (in italics)
1993 V S Naipaul An award for a young biographer or cultural historian, administered by the Society of Authors, won by Rosemary Hill
1995 Harold Pinter The Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, for the development of young playwrights
1997 Muriel Spark The library of James Gillespie's High School, Edinburgh (the inspiration behind The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)
1999 William Trevor An award for a young writer from Omagh in Co. Tyrone, administered by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland
2001 Doris Lessing The Art of Regeneration, in association with the Royal National Theatre
2003 Beryl Bainbridge and Thom Gunn (joint winners) The Arvon Foundation and the Kings Lynn Literature Festival
2005 Michael Holroyd Royal Society of Literature/ Jerwood Foundation Award for Non-Fiction, awarded to Alice Albinia
2007 Derek Mahon Gallery Press, Ireland
2009 Seamus Heaney Poetry Aloud!
2011 Julian Barnes The Reading Agency
2013 Hilary Mantel Katie Ward