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The David Cohen Prize for Literature

  • Date: 11 May 2009
  • Artform: Literature
  • Area: National

The David Cohen Prize for Literature is awarded to a writer who has contributed a significant amount to British literature, so much so that their work warrants recognition for a lifetime’s achievement.

'Arts Council England is proud to support a prize that recognises a lifetime’s achievement,' Antonia Byatt, Director of Literature Strategy, Arts Council England, said of the 2009 prize.

'Literature is at the core of our cultural life and this prize celebrates the writers who have changed writing in our lifetimes and whose work will live on for future generations.'

The David Cohen Prize for Literature 2009 was awarded to Irish poet Seamus Heaney for a lifetime’s achievement in literature. The prize, worth £40,000, was presented by the chair of judges and Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, at a gala ceremony hosted by the British Library.

The David Cohen Prize for Literature is a biennial prize, funded by the John S. Cohen Foundation and administered by Arts Council England, which honours a living writer from these isles for a lifetime’s achievement in literature. Seamus Heaney now joins a pantheon of winners, including V.S Naipaul, Harold Pinter, Muriel Spark, William Trevor, Doris Lessing, Beryl Bainbridge, Thom Gunn, Michael Holroyd and Derek Mahon.

On winning the prize, Seamus 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.'

The winner of the David Cohen Prize for Literature is selected by a panel of judges comprising distinguished authors, literary critics and academics. This year’s judging panel included Andrew Motion (Chair), Rachel Bowlby, Professor Robert Crawford, Lavinia Greenlaw, Maya Jaggi, Alberto Manguel, Jack Mapanje, Rose Tremain and John Walsh.

'Nobel Laureate, best-selling poet, venerated public figure; Seamus Heaney’s reputation is so exalted, judging panels might be expected to feel some trepidation about bestowing another prize on him,' commented Andrew Motion, chair of judges. 'But the self-renewing force of his writing, and the sheer scale of his achievement make the award of the Cohen Prize an absolutely right and proper act of recognition.'

He continued: 'For the last forty-odd years, Heaney’s poems have crystallised the story of our times, in language which has bravely and memorably continued to extend its imaginative reach. 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 honours him.'

The winner of the David Cohen Prize for Literature chooses the recipient of the Clarissa Luard Award, which is worth £12,500. This award is funded by Arts Council England and is given to a literature organisation that supports young writers or an individual writer under the age of thirty-five.

Seamus Heaney chose to present this year’s Clarissa Luard Award to Poetry Aloud, an annual poetry speaking competition open to all post primary students in Ireland. The competition is run by the National Library in association with Poetry Ireland.

Please note: We do not accept submissions for the David Cohen Prize.