The veteran Irish writer Edna O’Brien has been named the winner of the 2011 Frank O’Connor Short Story Award for her collection, 'Saints and Sinners'.
O’Brien received the prize in person at 8pm this evening, at the Metropole Hotel, in Cork. She is the first Irish writer to win.
The award, worth €35,000 and now in its seventh year, is the richest in the world for a collection of short stories. It is sponsored by Cork City Council and organised by Munster Literature Centre as part of its annual Cork International Short Story Festival.
In announcing O’Brien as the winner, Munster Literature Centre director Patrick Cotter praised the standard of this year’s entries, which he said was uniformly high.
The decision to award O’Brien the prize was, he said, a majority one, and not unanimous, and there had been some heated debate among the judges, who included the poet Thomas McCarthy, novelist and journalist Alannah Hopkin, music and book critic Chris Power.
The other shortlisted authors were Yiyun Li, Alexander McLeod, Suzanne Rivecca, Valerie Trueblood, and the Irish writer Colm Toibin.
Frank O’Connor’s daughter, LIadin, was on hand to present O’Brien with a copy of O’Connor’s book, 'The Habit of Getting It Down Right'.
O’Brien, who had read from her collection in the same venue on Saturday evening, seemed genuinely thrilled to have won the award.
“This is lovely, wonderful,” she said. “When Maureen Stapleton won an Academy Award, she said she’d like to thank everyone she’d ever met. I should probably limit that to Munster… I’d like to thank this wonderful festival for doing so much to stimulate the dying flower called literature.
“I can’t be blamed for the judges getting hot-tempered,” she added. “I haven’t won that many prizes in the past, so I have no qualms about accepting one on this occasion.”
O’Brien was born in Tuamgraney, Co Clare in December 1930. She first began writing short stories in Dublin, where she had moved to study pharmacy.
O’Brien recalled that her literary heroes were Frank O’Connor, Sean O Faolain and Peadar O’Donnell, who published her first stories in the literary magazine 'The Bell'.
“I didn’t know much about seduction in those days. I still don’t. But Peadar O’Donnell would buy me sweets rather than ply me with drink, and he told me that I needed to read a lot more.
“I’m still grateful to Peadar for that, that he encouraged me to educate myself.”
O’Brien’s earliest books were the novels 'The Country Girls', 'The Girl With Green Eyes' and 'Girls in Their Wedded Bliss'. For many years, her books were banned in Ireland.