The judging panel for the David Cohen Prize for Literature 2021, to be chaired by scholar Hermione Lee, has been unveiled.
The panel comprises Peter Kemp, the chief fiction reviewer for the Sunday Times; Reeta Chakrabarti, BBC News presenter and correspondent; Susheila Nasta, literary activist and founder of Wasafiri; and Maura Dooley, poet and founding director of the South Bank Centre’s Literature and Talks programme.
Lee said: “I’m honoured to be chairing the DCP and hope to sustain the very distinguished history of this exceptional literary award. I’m especially delighted to be working with four exceptional fellow judges, who have expertise across a wide range of literary and media areas and who are all passionate, informed and dedicated readers. I look forward to some exciting and interesting discussions with them over this coming year.”
Now in its 28th year, the biennial £40,000 prize is awarded in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature in the UK and Ireland. It has consequently earned its position in the literary canon as the “UK Nobel for literature”.
It was last awarded in 2019 to Edna O’Brien who, when asked what it meant to her, said: “It meant delight, I felt it had come from heaven. This matters a lot: there are so many books in the world and the judges had read very carefully; the depth to which they went to really see what was within those books (and there are many) that would maybe allow them to stand the test of time. I am delighted to have got it.”
Managed by New Writing North, the award will be announced in London in November 2021.
Kemp said: “It’s a pleasure and a privilege to take part in the judging process for an award with such an illustrious roll call of past winners as the David Cohen Prize. An additional appeal is this offers a rewarding and enthralling opportunity to take a whole literary career into account.”
Chakrabarti added: “The David Cohen Prize is special, awarded not for one book, but for a lifetime’s achievement – so the bar is set very high! I am a dedicated reader (when time allows), and a strong believer in the power of literature to entertain, but also to disrupt and disturb. I greatly relish the coming challenge.”
Dooley said: “There are now many distinguished prizes that mark the strength of a particular book but this award recognises the development of a writer’s work across decades. There is a particular thrill to be had in growing up and older alongside a writer who keeps you company over the years and whose work lights the way. It is that kind of brilliant and continuing illumination that is celebrated by the David Cohen Prize.”
Nasta added: “This is a unique prize and I feel very privileged to have this chance to read and savour works by so many outstanding British writers. Given the restrictions endured as a consequence of the global pandemic, the opportunity to travel freely and discover the riches of such a diverse range of literary landscapes will be a huge tonic.”
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