Hubert Butler Essay Prize 2023
Kilkenny Arts Festival has long paid tribute to the memory of Kilkenny native Hubert Butler - one of Ireland's most respected essayists - with the annual Hubert Butler Lecture occupying one of the keystone places in the Festival Programme. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, Kilkenny Arts Festival are delighted to be able to host both the Hubert Butler Lecture, and the Hubert Butler Essay Prize as part of the 2023 Festival Programme.
Founded by Jeremy O'Sullivan in 2018, the Hubert Butler Essay Prize encourages the art of essay-writing across Europe. The 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.
The title for this year’s essay is:
How far can we trust science?
Professor Roy Foster, chair of the judges, writes: ‘In an affectionate essay about the French ‘father of prehistory’ Jacques Boucher de Perthes, Hubert Butler quoted a characteristic pronouncement by his subject : “Science helps us to prove but prevents us understanding.’ Butler might not have subscribed completely to Boucher’s lofty dismissal, but he sustained a prescient scepticism about over-reliance on scientific formulae as applied to the problems and opportunities facing humanity.
Since the inauguration of the Hubert Butler Essay Prize in 2018, previous subjects in this series have explored ideas such as cosmopolitanism, internationalism, group identity, the fall-out from global pandemic, and the increasing abuse of political power in autocratic regimes. For the 2023 competition, the judges decided to target the enormous challenges presented by scientific advances such as artificial intelligence, and the uses and misuses to which such developments might be put. The question, put at its simplest, projects a theme whose relevance has grown exponentially in the twenty-first century, but whose roots can be traced back to the Enlightenment and beyond. It also raises preoccupations and issues memorably exposed and analysed through Butler’s consummate use of the essay form.'
Entries will be judged by Catriona Crowe, Roy Foster (Chair), Nicholas Grene, Eva Hoffman and Barbara Schwepcke. The first prize will be €1,500, with two second prizes of €500 each.
Submissions are now open and the closing date is 30 June 2023. The prize giving ceremony will be held in Kilkenny in August 2023. For terms and conditions and to apply please visit hubertbutleressayprize.com
Kilkenny Arts Festival became the permanent home of the Prize in 2021. Kevin Sullivan, the recipient of the prize in 2022, was presented the award in a ceremony in the Parade Tower in Kilkenny Castle, as part of the 2022 Kilkenny Arts Festival. You can read Kevin's full essay '‘In dark times, what can be done to resist the abuse of political power?’ here. The Presentation featured a speech by Fiona Shaw, which you can read here.
Hubert Butler was born in Kilkenny in 1900, and he travelled extensively throughout Europe during his life. With his wife, Peggy, he founded the Kilkenny Lectures to encourage dialogue between the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic, and he found international recognition in his eighties for his essay collections Escape from the Anthill, The Children of Drancy, and Grandmother and Wolfe Tone.