Hubert Butler Essay Prize launched
Prize commemorates great Irish writer and humanitarian and promotes essay-writing
Hubert Butler in 1987: “This new essay prize is founded to recognize Butler’s achievement in intellectual history, and to encourage the kind of economical but substantial essay-writing which he perfected.” Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
A new prize for essay writing, designed to commemorate the great 20th-century Irish writer and humanitarian Hubert Butler, is to be launched on July 1st. The Hubert Butler Essay Prize, which is intended to promote Butler’s work and encourage the art of essay-writing with a European dimension, is open to EU citizens; the winner will receive £1,000, and the two runners-up £500 each.
The prize, which will be awarded annually, is supported by the Irish Department of Foreign of Affairs; the Oak Foundation; the Literary Review; the Butler Society; and the Butler family. It is organised by the newly founded charity HEART London, which promotes the best of European liberal values in the arts. This year’s essay subject is “What happened to ‘Europe without frontiers’?”
The chair of the judges, Prof Roy Foster of Oxford University, said: “Hubert Butler’s extraordinary oeuvre, after a lifetime’s essay-writing, gained world-wide attention when Lilliput Press began publishing his work in volume form in the 1980s. His subjects spanned an arc from Ireland to eastern Europe and beyond, and his preoccupation with freedom of thought, the making and unmaking of nation states, and the threats presented by one kind of totalitarianism or another, have never been more relevant.
“This new essay prize is founded to recognize Butler’s achievement in intellectual history, and to encourage the kind of economical but substantial essay-writing which he perfected, on the sort of subjects which he persistently brought to attention. In the present state of the world, there could be no better way to commemorate a thinker whose uncompromising insights into follies and barbarities are more illuminating than ever.”
The competition runs from July 1st to September 3rd, with an awards ceremony at the Irish Embassy, London on October 24th. Details of how to enter can be found at hubertbutleressayprize.com
Butler was born into an Irish Protestant family in Kilkenny in 1900. He was educated at Oxford and the School of Slavonic Studies in London, where he mastered Russian and Serbo-Croatian. Travelling in central and eastern Europe in the 1930s gave him an early awareness of the growth of anti-Semitism, and in 1938 he went to Vienna to help hundreds of Jews escape from Nazi persecution.
He returned to Croatia after the second World War, and discovered evidence of the ethnic cleansing of the Orthordox Serbs with the connivance of the Catholic Church, a discovery which made him deeply unpopular with the authorities in Ireland.
He and his wife Peggy made his family home, Maidenhall, into a centre of intellectual debate, and founded the Kilkenny Lectures to encourage dialogue between the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic. He finally found recognition as an essayist of international calibre in his eighties, with his collections Escape from the Anthill, The Children of Drancy and Grandmother and Wolfe Tone. He died in 1991.