Tóibín on song as he pick up Irish Pen award


HAVE YOU ever wondered what people are saying at photocalls when being honoured? As writer Colm Tóibín was being photographed with his 2011 Irish Pen Award yesterday, he was leading a spontaneous and rousing a cappella version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

Gamely singing along with him at the Arts Council’s offices on Merrion Square were council director Mary Cloake and Joe Armstrong, chair of Irish Pen.

Tóibín is the latest recipient of the Irish Pen award, which was first given in 1998 and annually honours a writer who has made an outstanding contribution to Irish literature. Recipients have included John B Keane, Seamus Heaney, William Trevor, John McGahern and Maeve Binchy.

Irish Pen is affiliated to International Pen, an organisation with branches in 90 countries.

Among Tóibín’s many other awards are the Dublin International Impac Literary Award for The Masterand the Costa Prize for Brooklyn.He said the Pen award was different because it was for a body of work.

“It’s not competitive, and it doesn’t put you on a shortlist and make you sit through dinner wondering if you’ve won or not.” This is an experience Tóibín has had several times, including twice for the Booker, with The Blackwater Lightshipin 1999 and The Masterin 2004.

Speaking at a dinner in Dublin last night where the award was presented, Ms Cloake described Tóibín as one who travels and returns, “both emigrant and immigrant”.

She said Tóibín had always been a champion of minorites; that he had been “to the forefront in establishing a distinctive place for gay people within Irish society”.

Tóibín is currently teaching at Princeton and will be taking up his new appointment as professor of creative writing at Manchester University this autumn.