Eavan Boland wins posthumous Costa Poetry Award

Trinidadian authors Ingrid Persaud and Monique Roffey win novel awards

The late Eavan Boland in Dublin in 2018. Photograph: Barry Cronin

The late Eavan Boland has posthumously won the Costa Poetry Award for her final collection, The Historians, described by the judges as having “some of the finest lines of poetry written this century”.

Boland, who was professor of English and humanities and director of the creative writing programme at Stanford University, California, died last April, aged 75. Her Irish Times obituary said she “broke the mould of Irish poetry – and drew new audiences to the form – by making women’s experiences central to her poems”.

Ingrid Persaud won the Costa First Novel Award for Love After Love, her debut set in her native Trinidad. (Irish author Michelle Gallen had been shortlisted for Big Girl Small Town.) Monique Roffey, who is also from Trinidad, won the Costa Novel Award for her seventh book, The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story. Lee Lawrence, son of Brixton gun victim Cherry Groce, won the Costa Biography Award for his first book, the memoir, The Louder I Will Sing: A story of racism, riots and redemption. Natasha Farrant wonthe Costa Children’s Book Award with her 12th book, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk.

The Costa Book Awards is the only major book prize open solely to authors resident in Britain and Ireland. The Costa Book of the Year, chosen from the five category winners, who each receive £5,000, will be announced on on January 26th. The 2019 Costa Book of the Year was The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero who Infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather.


What the judges said: "An extraordinary book of lyrical power that has some of the finest lines of poetry written this century."

Throughout her nearly 60-year career, acclaimed poet Eavan Boland came to be known for her exquisite ability to weave myth, history, and the life of an ordinary woman into mesmerizing poetry. She was an essential voice in both feminist and Irish literature, praised for her ‘edgy precision, an uncanny sympathy and warmth, an unsettling sense of history’ (J.D. McClatchy). Her final volume, The Historians, is the culmination of her signature themes, exploring the ways in which the hidden, sometimes all-but-erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past.

Two women burning letters in a back garden. A poet who died too young. A mother’s parable to her daughter. Boland listens to women who have long had no agency in the way their stories were told; in the title poem, she writes: ‘Say the word history: I see / your mother, mine. /... Their hands are full of words.’ Addressing Irish suffragettes in the final poem, Boland promises: ‘We will not leave you behind’, a promise that animates each poem in this radiant collection. These extraordinary, intimate narratives cling to the future through memory, anger, and love in ways that rebuke the official record we call history.

Born in Dublin in 1944, Eavan Boland studied in Ireland, London and New York. Her first book was published in 1967. A pioneering figure in Irish poetry, Boland’s previous works include The Journey and other poems (1987), Night Feed (1994), The Lost Land (1998) and Code (2001). Her poems and essays have appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Kenyon Review and American Poetry Review. She was a regular reviewer for the Irish Times.

Boland taught at Trinity College, University College and Bowdoin College Dublin, and at the University of Iowa. She was Mabury Knapp Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, California. Boland divided her time between California and Dublin where she lived with her husband, the novelist Kevin Casey. She died in Dublin on April 27th, 2020, aged 75.

What the judges said:
"The Mermaid is a story of rare imagination and exciting scale – an adventure and a fable, a glorious myth that tells a far bigger story."

April 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. David, a fisherman, sings to himself in his pirogue, waiting for a catch - and attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. Aycayia, a centuries old mermaid, is drawn to his singing. But her curiosity is her undoing when she is caught by American tourists… David rescues her and hides her away, where she slowly, painfully turns into a woman.

But in the tiny community of St Constance, tongues will wag, and dark forces begin to circle David and Aycayia. A terrible storm brews, and it becomes clear that the mermaid cannot remain on Black Conch forever...

Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born, British writer. Her novels, which include The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and House of Ashes, have been shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Encore Award and the Costa Novel Award; she won the OCM BOCAS Award for Caribbean Literature for Archipelago in 2013. The Mermaid of Black Conch is her sixth novel and based on a Taino legend about a beautiful young woman cursed to live as a mermaid. After securing a publishing deal with Peepal Tree Press, Monique crowdfunded the fee for her publicity campaign, hitting her target in just three weeks after support from authors including fellow winner Ingrid Persaud.

Monique is also a Senior Lecturer on the Creative Writing MA/MFA at Manchester Metropolitan University and has also taught creative writing and mentored emerging writers in Trinidad for several years, for COSTAATT, the OCM Bocas Literature Festival, and privately in Port of Spain. Monique is a co-founder of Writers Rebel, a working group of writers inside Extinction Rebellion.

What the judges said:
"An exuberant, outstanding novel, teeming with life, full of unforgettable characters and written with such brio and style."

Meet the Ramdin-Chetan family: forged through loneliness, broken by secrets, saved by love. Irrepressible Betty Ramdin, her shy son Solo and their marvellous lodger, Mr Chetan, form an unconventional household, happy in their differences, as they build a home together. Home: the place where your navel string is buried, keeping these three safe from an increasingly dangerous world. Happy and loving they are, until the night when a glass of rum, a heart to heart and a terrible truth explodes the family unit, driving them apart.

Ingrid Persaud was born in San Fernando, Trinidad, in 1966. She left Trinidad in 1984 to study law at the LSE intending to return at the end of her studies. 36 years later, she still talks about returning one day. She became an academic, teaching law at King’s College London, and was Deputy Director of their Centre for European Law. In the mid-nineties, she moved to Boston teaching international law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Five years later, during what should have been a brief sabbatical, she completed an art foundation course at the Slade School of Art. She decided to switch careers taking a BA in fine art at Goldsmiths College followed by a MA in fine art at Central Saint Martins. While at Central Saint Martin’s, her work was included in an international showcase of student art at the Venice Biennale.

For many years, Persaud lived between Barbados and London raising her family. It was during this time that she began writing. Her first short story, The Sweet Sop, won the Commonwealth Short Story Award (2017) and the BBC National Short Story Award (2018). She lives in south London.


On September 28th, 1985, Lee Lawrence’s mother Cherry Groce was wrongly shot by police during a raid on her Brixton home. The bullet shattered her spine and she never walked again. In the chaos that followed, 11-year-old Lee watched in horror as the News falsely pronounced his mother dead. In Brixton, already a powder keg because of the deep racism that the community was experiencing, it was the spark needed to trigger two days of rioting that saw buildings brought down by petrol bombs, cars torched and shops looted.

But for Lee, it was a spark that lit a flame that would burn for the next 30 years as he fought to get the police to recognise their wrongdoing. His life had changed forever: he was now his mother’s carer, he had seen first-hand the prejudice that existed in his country, and he was at the mercy of a society that was working against him. And yet that flame - for justice, for peace, for change – kept him going.

The Louder I Will Sing is a memoir about growing up in modern Britain as a young black man. It’s a story both of people and politics, of the underlying racism beneath many of our most important institutions, but also the positive power that hope, faith and love can bring in response.

Lee Lawrence is an inspirational speaker, influencer and social change advocate. Using a reconciliatory approach with his personal experiences and background, Lee speaks and performs with a strong message of inspiration. Lee is actively involved in societal development and consults with the Metropolitan Police Service; improving the way police engage with their local communities. Working as a consultant, Lee also assists the Inquest Family Reference Group with their mission of wider support for bereaved families.

Inspired by the many challenges his mother experienced, Lee created the company Mobility Transport Ltd in 2014, with the aim to aid those who would otherwise struggle to live their daily lives. The company provides accessible transport for the disabled. Based in South London, the company works alongside Student Finance England, Universities and Residential Care Homes and Agencies to arrange transport to members of the local community, helping to meet their needs.

In 2016, Lee also founded the Cherry Groce Foundation: a tribute to his late mother. The foundation exists to enhance the wellbeing and promote inclusion to individuals with a physical or mental impairment. The charity is committed to supporting and working in partnership with clients, carers, disadvantaged groups, voluntary organisations and the wider community. Lee is creating a memorial in Brixton in honour of Cherry Groce, designed by world renowned architect Sir David Adajaye. Lee has managed to raise a substantial amount of money for the foundation and, has organized numerous charity events including fun days, educational tours and providing transportation.

The judges said:
"We loved everything about this remarkable, special, delightful book - pure heavenly escapism and a purely joyful read."

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk follows an epic voyage from England to France in the aftermath of WW1.

It’s the first spring after the Great War. In the village of Barton, life is as normal as it has been for a long time. Except not for everyone, and not for two children in particular...

Lotti has found herself on the run with a stolen chihuahua. Ben and his dog, Elsie, have no one to look after them. And soon the authorities are closing in with talk of orphanages, missing brothers and The Law. But Ben has his boat, The Sparrowhawk, and Lotti has a plan...

So begins an epic journey of police chases, storms at sea and unexpected puppies, as Ben and Lotti set off in search of lost loved ones and a place to call home.

Natasha Farrant is the author of the bestselling middle-grade novels, The Children of Castle Rock, Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror which was a Guardian Book of the Year, the acclaimed teen Bluebell Gadsby series and Carnegie-longlisted and Branford-Boase shortlisted YA historical novel, The Things We Did for Love.

She has worked in children’s publishing for 30 years, 20 of which as a literary scout. Three-quarters French, an eighth Dutch and an eighth English, she was born and raised in London, where she still lives with her family. Her favourite things to do when not reading or making up stories is to walk by the sea or in woods, usually looking at birds.