2018 – 2019 Prize

The winner of the twenty-sixth Christopher Ewart-Biggs Literary Prize, worth £7,500, is Anna Burns for her novel Milkman.

Read Anna Burns’s response.

Given the rubric of the Prize, and the strong commitment to Europe of both Jane and Christopher Ewart-Biggs, a separate Ewart-Biggs prize, also of £7,500, is awarded this year, to a work dealing with the implications of Brexit for Ireland, Britain and Europe.

This has been won by Katy Hayward, for the Twitter account on which she provides her own political and sociological account of the Brexit process as it unfolds, as well as curating an up-to-date link to a range of work by other authorities.

Read Katy Hayward’s response.

Speaking on behalf of his fellow-judges judges Paul Arthur, Catherine Heaney, Ian McBride, Susan McKay and Thomas Pakenham, the Chair Roy Foster said:

“The announcement of the winners of the 2020 Prize has been delayed since the spring, as we  hoped against hope to be able to have a face-to-face presentation in Dublin. These biennial events are important for us all, celebrating this remarkable institution and  its founders, and bringing together friends of the Prize, from its foundation in the dark days of the 1970s  until today. And the 2020 Prize – in fact, Prizes – represent some powerful work, reflecting  a very high level of engagement with the themes which the Prize was founded to encourage.  As announced earlier this year the short-list for the main Prize, raised this year to £7,500, was comprised of six works, covering a wide range of genres and subjects.

In alphabetical order the shortlisted entries were:

  • Guy Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance: social forgetting and vernacular historiography of a rebellion in Ulster (Oxford University Press)
  • Anna Burns’s novel, Milkman (Faber & Faber)
  • Michael Hughes’s novel, Country (John Murray Press)
  • Patrick Radden Keefe’s book, Say Nothing: a true story of murder and memory in Northern Ireland (William Collins)
  • Sam McBride, Burned: the inside story of the ‘cash-for-ash’ scandal and Northern Ireland’s secretive new elite (Merrion Press) 
  • The television series ‘Derry Girls’, written by Lisa McGee and directed by Michael Lennox (Channel 4 Television, distributed by Hat Trick International)

All these works contributed – the Judges felt – to understanding the contemporary and historical pressures which lie behind the tragedies (and victories) of living life in Northern Ireland; all are in their different ways distinguished, powerful and perceptive. It was not an easy decision. But in the end we chose a work which is formally daring, psychologically insightful, and unforgettably demonstrates the mechanisms of violence and the reactions which it evokes: a book which speaks to the reader like a voice in the ear, and holds the attention to the last page. The winner of the 2020 Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial prize is Anna Burns’s novel  Milkman.

Christopher Ewart Biggs was, incidentally, a novelist as well as a diplomat. He and Jane Ewart-Biggs were also convinced and passionate Europeans, and one of the rubrics of the Prize is to increase understanding between the peoples of Europe. This has never been more vital than during the period covered by this Prize, so the Judges decided to award a second Prize, also worth £7500, to a work  dealing with the implications of Brexit.

The four short-listed candidates, in alphabetical order of author, for the Prize for a work dealing with the implications of Brexit were: 

  • Tony Connelly, Brexit and Ireland: the dangers, the opportunities and the inside story of the Irish response (Penguin)
  • Katy Hayward’s journalism and political commentary, particularly the Twitter account which analysed the Brexit process as it unfolded, and provided links to a wide range of invaluable sources
  • Kevin O’Rourke, A Short History of Brexit: from Brentry to Backstop (Pelican)
  • Fintan O’Toole, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the politics of pain (Head of Zeus)

We are indebted to all these authors for expanding our horizons and clarifying a tangled tale, which has not yet reached its conclusion.  In the end, we decided that the candidate who did this most comprehensively, as well as increasing our understanding of the European context in which modern Ireland operates, was Katy Hayward:  to whom we award the second Ewart-Biggs Prize for 2020.

We congratulate two remarkable winners, and wish we could do so in person.”

Roy Foster talks about this year’s winners: