9th November 2017
Tom Stoppard has been announced as the winner of the 2017 David Cohen Prize for Literature. Now in its 25th year, the David Cohen Prize is singular in its approach: it is awarded every two years in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature, and has consequently earned its position in the literary canon as the 'UK and Ireland Nobel in literature'.
Sir Tom Stoppard, playwright and screenwriter, has dedicated his lifetime to his writing, to immeasurable effect. No stranger to prizes, his work has been recognised on countless occasions: accolades include five Tony Awards for Best Play, The Critics’ Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, America Award in Literature, seven Evening Standard Awards. There are many, many more. He was made a CBE in 1978, a KBE in 1997, and awarded the Order of Merit in 2000.
Tom Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler on 3 July 1937 in Zlín, Czechoslovakia. At the age of 29, Stoppard was the youngest dramatist ever to have a play performed at the National Theatre (based at that time at the Old Vic), with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a play that was revived at the NT on its 50th anniversary earlier this year. This launched a career that would see him rise to his position as one of the most acclaimed playwrights of the modern age, with works such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul and The Real Thing.
Stoppard has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, and across countless topics: from metaphysics and quantum mechanics to moral philosophy and moon landings, the pain of adultery and the excitement of love, linguistics and philosophy. He has also written passionately across human rights, censorship and political freedom. It is this extraordinary range of writing and quality of work throughout his literary career that made him a overwhelming choice for the judges.
The winner of the prize was nominated and selected by a panel of judges under the chair Mark Lawson. They were: Kate Bassett, Gillian Clarke, Professor Simon J. James, Alan Johnson, Denise Mina and Anita Sethi.
Mark Lawson, chair of judges, said: 'Stoppard’s work is built on foundations of electrifying dialogue, vivid stage-pictures, literary and historical perception, and roles that allow actors unusual verbal and emotional scope. It is another mark of the literary merit of Tom Stoppard that the judges who met his plays mainly on the page were just as enthusiastic as those who had spent numerous evenings with them in the dark. Two decades after Harold Pinter was an early winner of the David Cohen Prize, the award marks its Silver Jubilee by honouring a second giant of 20th century British drama.'
David Cohen himself commented: 'Congratulations to the judges on coming up with another outstanding winner. Is there no end to the great writers this country produces?'
The awarding of the 2017 David Cohen Prize for Literature reinforces its unique and invaluable position as the only prize that is awarded for the body of work by a writer of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Established in 1992 and first awarded in 1993, the David Cohen Prize for Literature is one of the UK’s most distinguished literary prizes. It recognises writers who use the English language and are citizens of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, encompassing dramatists, as well as novelists, poets and essayists. Former winners include V S Naipaul, Harold Pinter, William Trevor, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney, Hilary Mantel and, most recently in 2015, Tony Harrison.
The biennial prize, of £40,000, is for a lifetime’s achievement and is donated by the John S Cohen Foundation. Established in 1965 by David Cohen and his family, the trust supports education, the arts, conservation and the environment.