Poet Seamus Heaney Wins Literature Prize

LONDON ~ Irish poet Seamus Heaney was awarded the £40,000 David Cohen Prize for Literature this week for a lifetime of work that the judges said had “crystallized the story of our times.”

The 69-year-old Nobel laureate was presented with the prize, whose previous winners include VS Naipaul, Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing, at a ceremony in London.

“For the last 40-odd years, Heaney’s poems have crystallized the story of our times, in language which has bravely and memorably continued to extend its imaginative reach,” said Andrew Motion, Britain’s poet laureate and the chairman of the judges.

“At the same time, his critical writing, his translations and his lecturing have invigorated the whole wider world of poetry. Setting his name alongside previous winners does honour to the Cohen Prize, even as it honors him.”

Northern Ireland-born Heaney published his first collection of poems, Death Of A Naturalist, in 1966 and has since become one of the English-language’s leading poets. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

Accepting the award, Heaney said: “Much about the David Cohen Prize makes it highly honorific: first of all there’s the list of the previous winners – a roll call of the best.

“There’s the fact that you don’t enter for it but are chosen from the wide field of your contemporaries, and then there’s the verification of that reference to ‘lifetime achievement’ – a lovely reward when offered by a panel of such distinguished writers and readers.”

By winning the biennial award, Heaney also won the right to grant the £12,500 Clarissa Luard Award, given to a literature organization that supports young writers or an individual writer under the age of 35.

Heaney chose to present the award, funded by the Arts Council England, to Poetry Aloud, an annual poetry speaking competition for students in Ireland.

The David Cohen prize is funded by the John S Cohen Foundation and administered by the arts council.

It is awarded to a living writer who has written in English and has contributed a “significant amount to British literature.”

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