Colm Tóibín wins the 2021 David Cohen Prize for Literature
Colm Tóibín received the 2021 David Cohen Prize for Literature at a ceremony this evening at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London.
Hermione Lee, president of the judges, said the Irish author was the unanimous choice of all judges: Reeta Chakrabarti, Maura Dooley, Peter Kemp and Professor Susheila Nasta. “I think of him as a Renaissance man who can do almost anything with the same gusto,” she said. “He is a novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, travel writer, critic, teacher, journalist and gay rights activist.
“Her novels and stories envision their path in the lives and minds of others with incredible empathy and skill. He’s a deeply insightful writer who can also be deadly funny and daringly erotic. He is a truly international personality and an attentive historian of our time. He is a fine writer of loss and sorrow, of silence and tranquility. He writes with the intensity of a poet and the lyrical rhythms of a musician. I never missed a book from him and each of his books that I have read has been an eye opener. He is one of the essential writers of our time.
Tóibín, whose latest novel is The Magician, about German writer Thomas Mann, said: this way. Those who have won the award in the past are artists whose work I revere. I am proud to be among them.
Tóibín is the latest in a long line of distinguished writers to win the award, which is awarded every two years for a range of works. Previous laureates who won the Nobel Prize for Literature are Harold Pinter, VS Naipaul, Doris Lessing and Seamus Heaney. Other Irish winners include William Trevor, Derek Mahon and Edna O’Brien.
Chakrabarti said: “Our exceptional winner – Colm Tóibín – is simply a class act in a highly competitive and talented field. He is a natural novelist, a writer of great subtlety, simplicity and intelligence. His novels are anchored in time and space. It seamlessly brings together the broad public themes of politics and history with the personal struggles of individuals. He is fascinated by ambiguous characters and talks about them in beautiful, uncluttered prose. “
Dooley said, “The experience of reading Colm Tóibín often feels like an old friend coming up to tell me a story. Whatever the form, be it review, essay, poetry or fiction, Tóibín’s distinctive voice crystallizes in a register so compelling, intimate and captivating that all awareness of his technical accomplishment is obscured. . He casts a spell. He himself is “a magician”.
Yet these technical skills are extraordinary. He is a writer as comfortable writing poetry, or for the stage, as he is, with subtlety and grace, creating a character and a narrative voice in his fiction. His personal essays are full of wit and substance, and he has made brilliantly lively and tender presences of Henry James and Thomas Mann. His remarkable insight, close attention and nuanced reading of the human condition is never clearer than when he writes about women, from the Virgin Mary or Clytemnestra to his own Nora Webster. Tóibín’s work crosses countries, sexualities and gender; he questions the silence and writes with the greatest sensitivity what it is to be alive. Colm Tóibín is a writer of dazzling gifts who, for decades now, has brought the inner lives of his characters to life with kindness, insight and precision.
Kemp said, “The 2021 David Cohen Award has been presented to a writer of impressive range and exceptionally high achievement. Author of ten novels, two collections of short stories, three travel books and various collections of essays, Colm Tóibín is a writer of exceptional versatility and consistent consistency. With intense immediacy and piercing lucidity, his fiction – especially his masterpiece Brooklyn – explores lingering themes such as the ways in which family life can support or trap, uprooting can disturb or vitalize. The relationships between writers and their families, most recently highlighted in his masterful novel on Thomas Mann, The Magician, is also a recurring concern in non-fiction works such as his brilliantly insightful investigation of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and their fathers.
“Ireland, exile, gay life and creativity, politics and travel are also subjects to which his novels and other writings have brought unwavering intelligence and literary flair. It is with happy unanimity that we, the judges, awarded the prize to a writer who is a man of letters in the finest and most complete sense.
Nasta said: “The more you read Colm Tóibín, the more his imaginative universe resonates like a haunting piece of music. From intimate portraits of his Enniscorthy fictions, set in an Ireland torn apart by conflict and change, to the broader historical and cultural compass of his fictional biographies, a sustained emotional integrity exposes the conflicts in the lives of its characters. One of the privileges of judging the David Cohen Prize is the opportunity it provides to read through a lifetime of writing. Already well known for his pioneering chronicle of homosexual sexualities and his critique of narrow Irish nationalisms, Tóibín’s depth of empathic engagement with the full arc of human experience continues to surprise. Above all, his work forces us to recognize the vital power of writing as a vector of questioning and change.
Tóibín then awarded the Clarissa Luard Prize to Padraig Regan. The prize, founded by Arts Council England in memory of a much-regarded literary officer, is worth £ 10,000 and the winner of the David Cohen Prize for Literature in turn appoints an emerging writer whose wish to support the work.
Regan is the author of two brochures, Who Seemed Alive & Altogether Real (Emma Press, 2017) and Delicious (Lifeboat, 2016). They hold a PhD from Seamus Heaney Center, Queen’s University Belfast, where they are currently one of the Ciaran Carson Writing and City Fellows for 2021. Their first book, Some Integrity, will be published by Carcanet in January.
Regan said: “I am honored to have been selected as this year’s Clarissa Luard recipient, and deeply grateful to Colm Tóibín for nominating me. Having your work recognized by a writer you admire is always encouraging, and this is especially true for a writer like Colm, whose body of work has made it easier for young queer writers like me to find their place in Irish literary traditions.
Tóibín’s previous awards include the Encore Award for Second Novel for The Heather Blazing (1993); Dublin International Literary Prize for the Master (2006); Costa’s novel award for Brooklyn (2009); Hawthornden Award for Nora Webster (2015); and the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award in Irish Literature (2019).