Leeds born poet and playwright Tony Harrison, 77, has been awarded the £40,000 David Cohen Prize for literature. Presented every other year, previous winners include Hilary Mantel in 2013, Julian Barnes in 2011 and Seamus Heaney in 2009.
Harrison’s poetry, plays, and television works are often inspired by classical literature (he studied Classics) but address current concerns. One of his best known works is the poem V, written during the Miner’s Strike, which described a visit to the Harrison family grave above Leeds United’s stadium. It was made into a TV film and resulted in a debate in Parliament over the amount of swearing it contained!
He said: “I wrote my first poems 70 years ago, and I spent most of my lifetime producing poetry for page, stage and screen and this unexpected recognition is an enormous encouragement from the generous David Cohen Prize and helps me to confirm my commitment to what I’ve aways believed to be a united body of work, wherever the words were printed or performed. In this lifetime of writing, I’ve tried to balance the isolation necessary for serious composition with the communal creation of producing poetry of actors… This generous award is accepted with enormous gratitude as I approach, with renewed energy, my eighth and I hope most creative decade, with the poems, plays and films flowing till the end.”
He has also previously won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Poetry and the European Prize for Literature.The winner of the David Cohen prize is also able to bestow the £12,500 Clarissa Luard Award, funded by Arts Council England, on to a young writer or body to encourage them in their work. Harrison selected The Wordsworth Trust.