THE Arts Council has unveiled a new financial award to celebrate a leading Irish novelist and help boost the profile of Irish literature abroad.
Known as the Laureate for Irish Fiction, it will run over three years and the recipient will be awarded €150,000. The winner will have the opportunity to teach creative writing to students at University College Dublin and New York University.
Novelist Colm Toibin (58) said it is essential to honour our talented writers while they are still alive.
"It is about recognising excellence," Mr Toibin told the Irish Independent. "You only have to think back to the 1940s and 50s when writers like Flann O'Brien were so badly treated in their country to realise it is really important that people in their own life time are honoured and that there are innovations to recognise their achievement."
The Laureate is different from other awards in that writers will be nominated by their peers in secret as opposed to a publicly-known nomination system.
The Arts Council will coordinate the nomination process, which will begin immediately, and the final selection will then be put before a judging panel, including a high profile US and Irish writer.
"I think it's good that its not competitive with closed door nominations so there will be no public humiliation like you get with the Booker Prize short list," said Mr Toibin.
The Wexford native was one of the six writers shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize, for his novel 'The Testament of Mary'.
Arts Council chairwoman Pat Moylan said: "Writers are an important reason why the tourism industry in this country does so well."