John Burnside awarded David Cohen Prize

The David Cohen Prize, a biennial British literary award for a body of work, has this year been awarded to poet, novelist and memoirist John Burnside. Previous winners of the £40,000 prize include Colm Toibin, Muriel Spark, Julian Barnes, Hilary Mantel and VS Naipaul, among others. This year's judges were Hermione Lee, Aida Edemariam, Helen Mort, Malachy Tallack and Boyd Tonkin. 

As the Guardian writes: Burnside “has been writing every imaginable kind of book – and some unimaginable kinds – for at least 35 years”, said judging chair and biographer Hermione Lee. “He has an amazing literary range, he pours out a cornucopia of beautiful words, and he has won an array of distinguished prizes before this one. He casts a spell with language of great beauty, power, lyricism and truthfulness”, Lee added. “There is much sorrow, pain, terror and violence lurking in his work: he is a strong and powerful writer about the dark places of the human mind – but he’s also funny and deeply humane.”

Tonkin said that Burnside’s fiction “has an utterly distinctive flavour, timbre and voice that makes it quite unforgettable. In his novels, readers will encounter Burnside in his darkest, and most daring, moods. These stories take us deep into unsettling landscapes, and disturbed mindscapes, rendered with a dreamlike clarity and intensity.”

“Having worked for two decades with postgraduate writers, I have had occasion to meet students who show real potential in their craft for some way down the line,” Burnside said. “It is a rare pleasure, however, to encounter someone who is already there, fully defined and confident in their gifts and, at the same time, aware that writing is a lifelong and demanding discipline. In exceptional cases, I am struck with the immediate sense of a writer who is not only alert to the possibilities of narrative and the subtle pitfalls of memory, but is also attentive to the nuances of place and character and speech. Abigail Peters possesses all these gifts and more – and I am fully confident that we will all be reading her work for decades to come.”


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