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Prince of Asturias Awards

06/04/2014

John Banville, Prince of Asturias Award for Literature

Irish writer John Banville has been bestowed with the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, as made public today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award.

©FPA

The Jury for this Award –convened by the Prince of Asturias Foundation– was chaired by José Manuel Blecua Partridge and composed of Xuan Bello Fernández, Amelia Castilla Alcolado, Juan Cruz Ruiz, Luis Alberto de Cuenca y Prado, José Luis García Martín, Álex Grijelmo García, Manuel Llorente Manchado, Rosa Navarro Durán, Carme Riera i Guilera, Fernando Rodríguez Lafuente, Fernando Sánchez Dragó, Diana Sorensen, Ana Santos Aramburo, Sergio Vila-Sanjuán Robert and José Luis García Delgado (acting as secretary).

This candidature was put forward by José Antonio Pascual Rodriguez, deputy director of the Royal Spanish Academy –2000 Prince of Asturias Award for Concord–, and Javier Garrigues, Spain’s Ambassador to Ireland.

John Banville was born in Wexford (Ireland) in 1945. After finishing school, he began working in the airline Aer Lingus. He lived in the United States between 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland, he worked at The Irish Press until the newspaper closed in 1995. He was then appointed sub-editor at The Irish Times, where he also served as literary editor until 1999. He has been a regular contributor to The New York Times Review of Books since 1990.

As a writer, he has received numerous accolades throughout his career and even George Steiner, 2001 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities, called him “the most intelligent and stylish novelist currently at work in English”. His first book, Long Lankin, a collection of short stories, appeared in 1970, followed by his first novels, Nightspawn (1971) and Birchwood (1973). Considered by some critics as Nabokov’s “heir”, his style is appreciated for its precise prose and use of black humour in the mouth of the narrator. With Doctor Copernicus (1976), a fictionalized biography of the Polish astronomer that earned him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction from the University of Edinburgh, he began a series of books about the lives of eminent scientists and their ideas. Kepler (1981), on the German astronomer, won him The Guardian Fiction Prize. He completed the series with The Newton Letter: An Interlude (1982), which tells the story of a scholar who writes a book about Isaac Newton and which was adapted for television by Channel 4 TV, and Mefisto (1986), which explores the world of numbers in a reread of Doctor Faustus. He published The Book of Evidence in 1989, which won him the Guinness Peat Aviation Book Award, beginning a trilogy that continued with Ghosts (1993) and Athena (1995) in which the narrator of the stories was a convicted murderer. The Untouchable (1997), Eclipse (2000), Shroud (2002), Prague Pictures: Portrait of a City (2003), The Sea (2005), The Infinities (2009) and Ancient Light (2012) comprise his latest works. Moreover, in 2006 he began to publish a series of thrillers –under the pseudonym Benjamin Black– featuring the forensic pathologist Quirke, starting with Christine Falls. This has been followed by The Silver Swan (2007), The Lemur (2008), Elegy for April (2011), Death in Summer (2012), Vengeance (2013) and Holy Orders (2013). Benjamin Black has also published The Black-Eyed Blonde (2014), in which he brings Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe back to life.

The Sea earned John Banville his highest award, the 2005 Man Booker Prize, the most coveted literary award granted in the UK, which he had been short-listed for with The Book of Evidence in 1989. In addition to those already mentioned, other awards he has received throughout his career include the Allied Irish Banks’ Prize (1973), the Arts Council Macaulay Fellowship (Ireland, 1973) and the Lannan Literary Award (USA, 1997).

According to the Statutes of the Foundation, the Prince of Asturias Awards aim “to reward scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions”. As part of this spirit, the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature shall be conferred on those “whose literary work represents an outstanding contribution to universal literature”.

This year a total of 24 candidatures from Argentina, Cuba, Chile, China, Egypt, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mozambique, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Spain ran for the award.

This is the fifth of eight Prince of Asturias Awards to be bestowed this year, in what is now their thirty-fourth edition. The Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts went to American architect Frank O. Gehry, the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences was conferred on French historian and Hispanist Joseph Pérez, the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities went to the Argentinian-Spanish cartoonist Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón, Quino and the Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research was jointly bestowed on chemists Avelino Corma (Spain), Mark E. Davis (USA) and Galen D. Stucky (USA).The remaining awards will be announced in the coming weeks in the following order: International Cooperation and Sports, with the Award for Concord being announced in September.

Each of the Prince of Asturias Awards, which date back to 1981, comprises a diploma, a Joan Miró sculpture representing and symbolizing the Awards, an insignia bearing the Foundation’s coat of arms, and a cash prize of 50,000 euros. The Awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a grand ceremony presided over by HRH The Prince of Asturias.

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