Tuesday 12 December 2017

Delighted President picks up PEN honour

John Spain Books Editor

IT was the elephant in the room that nobody mentioned.

The great and the good from the Irish publishing world were at a gala dinner in Dun Laoghaire last night to see bestselling writer Joseph O'Connor presented with the PEN Writers Award for 2012 by President Michael D Higgins.

But the speeches did not refer to the scathing review of the President's poetry book which caused such controversy yesterday.

Professor Kevin Kiely said the President's latest book of poetry was "lame, stale, and stilted", even going so far as to say he "can be accused of crimes against literature".

In spite of all the controversy, a delighted President Higgins was conferred with honorary membership of Irish PEN by the organisation.

Accepting his accolade, Mr O'Connor said it was "a wonderful honour" to get the PEN award and that he was "deeply touched" that it had been won in the past by some of his boyhood writing heroes, including John McGahern and William Trevor.

"To be given this award by Irish PEN, an organisation that campaigns for writers all over the world, is to be reminded of the undying value at the heart of great literature," he said.

"We read to know we are not alone. That we are not doomed to live in the tomb of the self, to the grubbing of individualism, to the lies of materialism, that Ireland's greatest asset is not the one referred to in the initials of NAMA but our capacity to create and imagine."

Presenting him with the award for his outstanding contribution to Irish literature, President Higgins said of Mr O'Connor: "He is a brilliant writer and an accessible one.

"He is an urban realist who also delves beautifully and imaginatively into a past that defines so much of our national character. He is a talented writer, and a truly courageous one, a writer who takes risks, who tries new things, who is determined to constantly stretch and challenge himself, who never ever takes his great and unique gift for granted."

PEN is the international association of writers which promotes literature and defends freedom of expression around the world.

At the event in the Royal St George Yacht Club, an empty chair symbolised silenced writers around the world, some of whom are imprisoned or have been 'disappeared', tortured or murdered.

Irish Independent

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