Hubert Butler Essay Prize Winner

October 23, 2020

Hubert Butler Essay Prize Winner

The winner of the 2020 Hubert Butler Essay Prize is announced as Michael Amherst for his essay on the subject of Communal solidarity and individual freedom: antagonists or allies?

Friday 23 October 2020: Today the recipient of the renowned international Hubert Butler Essay Prize Hubert Butler Essay Prize 2020 was announced by President Michael D. Higgins. The award, which encourages the art of essay-writing across Europe, was to be held in Kilkenny to mark the 120th anniversary of Hubert Butler's birth, however due to Covid-19 restrictions the news was announced online instead. 

Michael Amherst was announced as the winner for his essay responding to this year’s title Communal solidarity and individual freedom: antagonists or allies?

Making the announcement today, President Michael D. Higgins said, “I am delighted to congratulate all those who have submitted work for this year’s Hubert Butler Essay Prize, taking the time to share with us their thoughts and insights on the relationship between communal solidarity and individual freedom. The themes and topics covered by the essays submitted are diverse and broad ranging, but all are rooted in an interrogation of the values by which we must live together if we are to create a truly ethical world.”

Read President Higgins’ comments in full HERE

Roy Foster Chair of the judging panel said, “In the end we were unanimous in awarding the first prize to Michael Amherst for his incisive essay focussing on identity politics, and how they operate when several kinds of ‘identity’ clash... Amherst  elegantly makes the case that an assertion of individual rights and ‘freedom’ necessarily involves engagement with the public realm.”

LINK to further comments from the judging panel.

Upon hearing the news Michael Amherst said, “I am so grateful to the judges of the Hubert Butler Essay Prize for selecting my essay. The essay form is one that tries to reach an understanding, with a recognition that the attempt will be incomplete and imperfect - as mine is! However, that conditionality feels important right now in a climate so given to assertion. I am also grateful to the prize for introducing me to the work of Hubert Butler. His humanity and a commitment to nuance is evident throughout his work. At a time when liberal values feel under threat, his championing of individual freedom, wedded to a common good, resonated with me and feel especially urgent. Finally, thank you very much to the organisers for providing both this recognition of the essay form and this opportunity for writers.”

Michael Amherst is the author of Go the Way Your Blood Beats, a meditation on truth and desire, for which he received an award from Arts Council England and won the 2019 Stonewall Israel Fishman Award for Nonfiction. His short fiction has appeared in publications including The White Review and Contrappasso and been longlisted for BBC Opening Lines and Bath Short Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. He is currently working on a novel and is a member of Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 scheme.  

Read Michael’s winning essay HERE

John Banville Honorary Patron of the Prize said, "Michael Amherst's essay is concise, elegant, subtle and persuasive, and timely in these troubled times. I congratulate a thoroughly deserving winner of the Butler Prize."

Speaking today Hubert Butler's daughter Julia Crampton said “The subject chosen by the judges for the Hubert Butler Essay Prize this year was brilliant and so suitable for the chaotic world of today. It is exciting to see the large number of entrants from so many different countries submitting essays. The same team of judges chaired by Roy Foster will take on the Butler Essay Competition for another year; the Kilkenny Arts Festival is now involved, so the future is bright for next year’s competition. Special thanks to Jeremy O’Sullivan of HEART London who will continue to be very involved, we are so grateful to all those who made this competition such a worthwhile project. While it is sad that the Covid-19 pandemic kept the award ceremony from being held in Kilkenny, the city that meant so much to him, I believe my father would have been surprised by the attention and excited by the very relevant essays.”

Olga Barry, Festival Director, Kilkenny Arts Festival said, “Kilkenny Arts Festival is honoured to support the Hubert Butler Essay Prize, 2020. We’re grateful to Jeremy O’Sullivan at the House of European Art, London, for his stellar work for many years in establishing this important recognition of essay-writing in Butler’s name. We’re particularly grateful to the judging panel for their time and energy; and heartily congratulate Michael, Tara and David for their fine work. Butler’s legacy is alive throughout the civic and cultural life of Kilkenny and the nation – this prize in his name is an important part of this legacy”

Judged by Catriona Crowe, Roy Foster (Chair), Nicholas Grene, Eva Hoffman and Barbara Schwepcke, first, second and third place winners’ essays will be published in the series Haus Curiosities.

Second place went to: Tara McEvoy who recently completed a PhD in English Literature at Queen's University Belfast, and edits the Belfast-based magazine of new writing The Tangerine. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, and The Stinging Fly, and is forthcoming in The Times Literary Supplement.

In third place is: David Crane is a researcher working in the international development sector, having recently completed his MSc in Development Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Before this, David obtained an MA in Economics from the University of Edinburgh. His main research interests are African economic and political history, conflict, and forced migration.

The annual prize is organised by HEART London, an arts charity which promotes the best of European liberal values – values that Hubert Butler embodied. This year HEART is partnering with Kilkenny Arts Festival, who is supporting the prize to mark the 120th anniversary of Butler's birth. The plan had been to bring the ceremony back to Kilkenny where he was born. The annual Hubert Butler lecture has been a much-loved element of Kilkenny Arts Festival for many years and is delivered by a different speaker each year.

This literary prize is designed to reflect Hubert Butler’s interest in the common ground between the European nation states that emerged after the First World War; his concern with the position of religious and ethnic minorities; his life and writings as an encapsulation of the mantra ‘Think globally, act locally’; the importance of the individual conscience; and his work with refugees.

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