Irish Pen award for Jennifer Johnston


One of Ireland's finest writers will be honoured today with an Irish Pen Life Achievement Award.

Dublin-born novelist and playwright Jennifer Johnston joins a distinguished and diverse list of literary figures, including Brian Friel, John B. Keane, Edna O'Brien, William Trevor, John McGahern, Neil Jordan and Séamus Heaney in receiving the award.

Johnston, now 76, has written 14 novels during the past 30 years. Although recognised as an astute observer of Irish social life with its cultural contrasts, particularly as seen from the viewpoint of the Southern Protestant, she is often described as the most underrated of major Irish writers.

A former winner of the Whitbread Prize, she was also Booker short-listed. The first World War and its complex legacy in Ireland, most notably its essential ambivalence as brilliantly explored in This is Not A Novel (2002), shaped her outstanding trio of early novels, The Captains and the Kings (1972), The Gates (1973) and How Many Miles to Babylon (1974). Aside from their confidence and poise, the novels impressed for being far removed from the typical autobiographical terrain of first novels.

As the daughter of a dramatist father, Denis Johnston, and actor mother, Shelah Richards, Johnston has always been alert to theatricality nuance and has made effective use of it in her fiction.

Increasingly, the de-culturalisation of Irish society has dominated her work.

Having lived in London for two decades before settling in Co Derry almost 30 years ago, Johnston managed to acquire the distance which allowed her to see her country through a sharpened vision.

Irish Pen, a society of writers, was founded by Lady Gregory in 1921.