David Cohen Prize for Literature 2021: Colm Tóibín awarded prestigious prize

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We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2021 David Cohen Prize for Literature. Unveiled on Monday evening in the splendid surroundings of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London, and streamed live, the prize was awarded to an Irish writer who has thrilled readers for decades, with a huge and devoted following: Colm Tóibín.

Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. He started writing at the age of 12, and has drawn admiration from countless readers: his deep pleasure in writing is evident and is fêted by readers and viewers across the world. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, his output includes ten novels and eleven works of non-fiction, as well as poetry, short story and essay collections, and journalism. His novel, Brooklyn, was adapted for film in 2016. His most recent novel, The Magician, published in September 2021, reaffirmed his position as “one of our greatest living novelists” (The i).

Now it is with pleasure and recognition that the David Cohen Prize for Literature is awarded to him.

Hermione Lee, chair of judges, said: “Chairing the David Cohen Prize-judging for the first time has been an enormous pleasure and exciting privilege for me. Colm Tóibín was our unanimous choice and we’re all proud and delighted to be giving him the prize. I think of him as a Renaissance man who can do almost everything with equal brilliance: he’s a novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, travel-writer, critic, teacher, journalist and activist for gay rights. His novels and stories imagine their way into the lives and minds of others with amazing empathy and skill. He’s a deeply perceptive writer who can also be lethally funny and daringly erotic. He’s a truly international figure, and a watchful historian of our times. He’s a beautiful writer of loss and grief, silence and quietness. He writes with the intensity of a poet and the lyric rhythms of a musician. I have never missed a book by him and every book of his I’ve read has been a revelation. He’s one of the essential writers of our times.”

Colm Tóibín said: “When I attended the inaugural reception for the David Cohen Prize in London in 1993, I did not imagine for a moment that my own writing would ever be honoured in this way. Those who have won the Prize in the past are artists whose work I revere. I am proud to be among them.”

The David Cohen Prize for Literature holds a unique and invaluable position: it is the only prize that is awarded for the whole body of work, not just for one book, one solo spark of genius. The prize is awarded every two years in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime continued achievement in literature, and has earned its position in the literary canon as the “UK and Ireland Nobel in literature”.

Established in 1992 and first awarded in 1993, the David Cohen Prize for Literature is one of the UK’s most distinguished literary prizes. Former winners include V S Naipaul, Harold Pinter, William Trevor, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney, Hilary Mantel, Tony Harrison, Julian Barnes, Tom Stoppard and, most recently in 2019, Edna O’Brien. The prize, of £40,000, is donated by the John S Cohen Foundation. New Writing North manages the prize.

Colm Tóibín was awarded the David Cohen Prize by a panel of judges chaired by Hermione Lee. They were: Reeta Chakrabarti, Maureen Dooley, Peter Kemp and Professor Susheila Nasta FRSL MBE. Our many thanks to all the judges and enormous congratulations to the winner!