CLAIRE KEEGAN was last night announced the winner of the €25,000 Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009, at a presentation in the Dublin pub made famous by Joyce.
Keegan's winning short story, Foster, was chosen from a shortlist of six writers by American fiction writer Richard Ford. Ford was not present, but Caroline Walsh, Literary Editor of The Irish Times, read from his winning citation, in which he praised the writer's "sparkling talent".
" Fosterputs on display an imposing array of formal beauties at the service of a deep and profound talent. It tells a conceivably simple story – a young child given up to grieving foster parents and then woefully wrested home again.
“Claire Keegan makes the reader sure that there are no simple stories, and that art is essential to life.”
Ford wrote of Keegan’s “thrilling” instinct for the right words and her “patient attention to life’s vast consequence and finality”.
Walsh presented the award, organised by literary magazine The Stinging Flyand administered by Declan Meade, in association with The Irish Times, and sponsored by Davy Byrnes.
Accepting the prize, Keegan (41) told the thronged room that on the day of the February deadline to submit entries, it snowed in Wexford, where she lives, and she couldn’t get her car out to go to the post office. Thus she walked across the snowy fields until she found a postbox, and had dropped the envelope into it before belatedly tormenting herself by wondering how the postman was going to collect it that day. But clearly the Wexford postmen are undaunted by a few snowflakes, and her story duly made it to Dublin in time.
What will she do with her winnings? “I might buy a new desk,” she confessed modestly. “I have two sort of half-desks taped together at the moment, so I might go mad and buy a new one.”
Keegan, whose rural upbringing on a Wicklow farm has consistently informed her sensibility as a writer, has published two collections of short stories, Antarctica(1999) and Walk the Blue Fields(2007). She studied at Loyola University in New Orleans, the University of Wales, and Trinity College Dublin. Among her many previous awards are the Macaulay Fellowship, The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and the William Trevor Prize, judged by William Trevor himself.
Runners-up Mary Leland, Molly McCloskey, Eoin McNamee, Kathleen Murray, and Susan Stairs were each presented with €1,000. The competition attracted an entry of more than 800 stories, 30 of which were selected as a longlist for Ford to adjudicate.
This is the second time Davy Byrnes has sponsored the competition: the first was in 2004, and the winner on that occasion, Anne Enright, has since won the Man Booker Prize.