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Laureate for Irish Fiction

October 29, 2014

imagesThe Arts Council has launched a new initiative, the Laureate for Irish Fiction. The role will be awarded to an Irish writer of national and international distinction, and used to promote Irish literature here and abroad while encouraging “the public to engage with high quality Irish fiction”.

 Sarah Bannan Keegan, head of literature at the Arts Council, says the new role was inspired by existing equivalents. “We already have an Ireland Professor of Poetry, and Children’s Laureate na nÓg, so in part it was about completing the puzzle. We do this kind of thing well in Ireland, and it helps get people excited about a kind of literature, so this new position will honour that.”

The post, which is also supported by University College Dublin, New York University and The Irish Times, is accompanied by an award of €150,000 over three years. Over the summer, approaches were made to literary and arts organisations, bookshops, libraries and book clubs to suggest candidates for the longlist. Nominations closed on October 3rd and a longlist has just been published.  From this, a shortlist will be chosen by a five-strong judging panel. This consists of the poet and playwright Paula Meehan, the novelist (and former Laureate na nÓg) Siobhán Parkinson, the New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, the winner of this year’s International Impac Dublin Literary Award, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and the British poet and author Blake Morrison. The panel will be chaired by the poet Paul Muldoon, who also has a vote.

Colm Keegan, the writer and poet who is one of the organisers of next month’s Lingo Spoken Word Festival, says the role has possibilities. “If it is awarded to an upcoming writer who really needs it, and can build on it, rather than being used to prop up somebody already established, then the prize is a good thing.”

As with any literary award, deciding on a recipient will be difficult, not least because Ireland is spoiled for choice. Bert Wright, curator at the Mountains to Sea DLR Book Festival, applauds the idea but is glad not to be on the judging panel.

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