To honour a writer for their lifetime’s achievement and to bestow an award worth tens of thousands of pounds is a serious and profound business. That is the challenge facing Simon James as he joins a panel of expert judges to decide £40,000 David Cohen Prize for Literature 2017.
This biennial prize, which is now in its 25th year, was last awarded to the poet Tony Harrison in 2015. To determine the 2017 recipient, Simon James will be part of a wide-ranging group comprising Labour politician Alan Johnson, writer Anita Sethi, poet Gillian Clarke, author and academic Kate Bassett, and crime writer Denise Mina.
Simon James mostly researches into British literary culture of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, so this offers an interesting opportunity to engage with more recent literature:
Many literary prizes give the opportunity to make a judgement on the quality of a single work; the David Cohen prize, unusually, allows the opportunity to recognise, and applaud a lifetime’s work. Most professors of literature evaluate writing from the past – it is very exciting to be able to celebrate the work of a living writer, and I am delighted to be involved in this year’s prize.