Irish writer wins €100,000 Impac literary prize

 

THE INTERNATIONAL Impac Dublin Literary Award, worth €100,000, was last night presented, for the second time in the award’s history, to an Irish writer.

Dublin-born Colum McCann, who lives in New York, won the world’s richest literary prize with his sixth novel, Let The Great World Spin.

The book, which is already an international bestseller, has been described by its author as a personal response to the events of September 11th, 2001, previously won the National Book Award, one of the major literary prizes in the US.

McCann (46) first achieved international success on the publication of his second novel, This Side of Brightness, in 1998. Although based in the US where he teaches at Hunter College, he has retained close contacts with Ireland and the Irish literary scene and is a generous champion of international writing.

The winning novel, Let The Great World Spin, received the highest number of nominations, 14, from libraries across the world.

In an interview in today’s Irish Times,the author refers to how much winning the Impac award means to him because it was an Irish as well as an international prize.

Although he was not the favourite to win, McCann’s triumph is one of the most popular in the award’s history and it is already probably the most widely read winning book.

An Irish win had been expected, but in the form of William Trevor’s beautiful 14th novel, Love and Summer, a delicate if characteristically astute romance set amid the savagery of an Irish small town. Its humour and pathos testify to Trevor’s unique insights into human nature.

A previous Irish Impac winner, Colm Tóibín, who won the prize in 2006 with The Master,had been shortlisted this year with Brooklyn, which won the 2009 Costa Novel Award.

Irish fiction had three contenders on the 10-strong shortlist. It also included three US writers, three Australians, including the inaugural Impac winner David Malouf, and one Canadian.

Chinese writer Yiyun Li, who now lives in the US and is an American citizen, was another strong fancy to win with her powerful first novel The Vagrants.

For McCann, whose colleagues at Hunter College include the double Booker winner Peter Carey, Yiyun Li personifies the new international novel which he feels holds the future of the novel form. But then, Let The Great World Spinis itself an international novel, a quality which was praised by the judges.

In confronting the events of 9/11 by exploring the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and also the effect the 1974 wire walk by Frenchman Philippe Petit had on native New Yorkers who saw so many different things in that famous act of artistic subversion, McCann has continued to study the chance moments that shape human experience.

Although this year’s shortlist was exclusively English language based, the International Impac Dublin Literary Award has highlighted the quality and range of foreign language fiction in translation.

The award has already given a major voice to that most important reading contingent, library users.