Czech-born playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard has won the 2017 David Cohen Prize for Literature.
The £40,000 biennial lifetime achievement award, dubbed "the UK and Ireland Nobel in literature", went to Stoppard as "a giant of 20th century British drama".
"Stoppard’s work is built on foundations of electrifying dialogue, vivid stage-pictures, literary and historical perception, and roles that allow actors unusual verbal and emotional scope," said chair of the judges Mark Lawson. "It is another mark of the literary merit of Tom Stoppard that the judges who met his plays mainly on the page were just as enthusiastic as those who had spent numerous evenings with them in the dark. Two decades after Harold Pinter was an early winner of the David Cohen Prize, the award marks its Silver Jubilee by honouring a second giant of 20th century British drama."
Stoppard was the youngest dramatist ever to have a play performed at the National Theatre, with "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead", a play that was revived at the National Theatre on its 50th anniversary earlier this year. His other notable stage plays are "Arcadia", "The Coast of Utopia", "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour", "Professional Foul" and "The Real Thing". He has also written for radio, "In the Native State" and "Indian Ink", and for film, writing the screenplays for films including "Shakespeare in Love", which won an Academy Award, and the film adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
New Writing North, which organisation now runs the prize after winning a bid earlier this year, praised his "extraordinary range of writing", as well as its "quality", pointing out the topics he has written on span metaphysics and quantum mechanics, moral philosophy and moon landings, the pain of adultery and the excitement of love, linguistics and philosophy, and human rights, censorship and political freedom. His accolades already include five Tony Awards for Best Play, The Critics’ Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, America Award in Literature, seven Evening Standard Awards. He was made a CBE in 1978, a KBE in 1997, and awarded the Order of Merit in 2000.
Kate Bassett, literary associate at Chichester Festival Theatre, joined former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke, Durham professor Simon J. James, Labour politician Alan Johnson, The Long Drop author Denise Mina and journalist Anita Sethi on the panel of judges, and commented Stoppard was "impishly intelligent, wittily experimental" while his writing "effervesces with joie de vivre".
“What a wonderful thing: to survey and celebrate the rich panorama of a writer’s oeuvre, to relish their creativity through the decades – their youthful flair and maturing artistry, their changing outlooks and their hallmarks of persistent brilliance. That’s what the David Cohen Prize for Literature is here to do, and being on the judging panel for this year’s award has been not only fascinating but thoroughly delightful too," she said. "The winner is almost impishly intelligent, wittily experimental with overarching structures at the same time as being, close up, a crafter of exquisite phrases. The writing, even as it enfolds big ideas and is laced with a delicate mournfulness, effervesces with joie de vivre."
Former winners of the prize include V S Naipaul, Harold Pinter, William Trevor, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney, Hilary Mantel and, most recently in 2015, Tony Harrison. The prize is donated by the John S Cohen Foundation that was established in 1965 by David Cohen and his family to support education, the arts, conservation and the environment.