Irish author Anna Burns has won the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award—known as the world’s richest annual literary prize—for her novel Milkman.
The award’s prize money of €100,000 (about R1,9 million) is the highest for an award for a single novel published in English.
Burns was announced as the winner was announced in an online event as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin, which is running online until 28 October.
Anna Burns is the first writer from Northern Ireland and the fourth woman to claim the award in its twenty-five-year history.
Commenting on her win, Burns said:
‘What an honour. I’m thrilled to bits and am about to break into my sevens with the excitement of it all! This is an extraordinary honour—especially given the fantastic list I find myself on. I thank the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu, and Dublin City Council for being the patron and the host of this generous award. Also I salute them for representing Dublin’s position at the cultural heart of world wide literature’
The award receives its nominations from public libraries in cities across the world. Milkman was nominated by public libraries in the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, as well as Limerick City and County Libraries in Ireland. The winning novel was chosen from a shortlist of ten novels by writers from Canada, France, India, Iran, Ireland, Poland, the UK and the USA. Eight of this year’s shortlisted novels were by female authors.
In her acceptance speech, Burns praised libraries and spoke how much they meant to her as a child in Belfast:
‘To go from being a wee girl haggling over library cards with my siblings, my friends, neighbours, my parents and my aunt, to be standing here today receiving this award is phenomenal for me, and I thank you all again for this great honour.’
Twelve African writers were named on the longlist this year, which was made up of 156 books in total, but none made the shortlist. Esi Edugyan, a Canadian author of Ghanaian heritage, was shortlisted for her novel Washington Black.
The 2020 judging panel, which is led by Professor Chris Morash of Trinity College Dublin, and includes Yannick Garcia, Shreela Ghosh, Niall MacMonagle, Cathy Rentzenbrink and Zoë Strachan commented:
‘Reading this book is an immersive experience. Once experienced, Anna Burns’s Milkman will never be forgotten.
‘The reader becomes the world of the book. There was simply no other novel like it on the longlist. Many novels come and go but this tour-de-force is a remarkable achievement. We read it with huge admiration and gratitude. When we finished it, we felt enriched, informed, wiser.
‘A description of what this original book is about fails to do it justice. Its brilliance lies in its compelling, questioning voice, its strong individual, resilient narrator, its evocation of place, its threatening and sinister atmosphere, its description of what Burns calls lives of ‘nervous caution’.
‘Milkman soon emerged as a frontrunner and naming it our eventual winner was a unanimous decision.’
Burns was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is the author of three novels: No Bones, Little Constructions and Milkman, and of the novella Mostly Hero. No Bones won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Milkman won the 2018 Man Booker Prize. She lives in East Sussex, England.