The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, holds the archive of Sebastian Barry, the recipient of the 2008 Costa Book of the Year award, an internationally recognized literary prize for books by writers based in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Irish novelist and playwright Barry was honored for his book “The Secret Scripture.” The novel chronicles the story of Rose McNulty, a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital in County Sligo, as she approaches her 100th birthday.
“This book, ‘The Secret Scripture,’ has its basis in a very shadowy rumor that survived about one of my great aunts,” said Barry. “And although the book is wholly invented, apart from that, it was important to me, to some degree, to attempt to rescue this woman from yet another great silence of Irish history. It’s called ‘The Secret Scripture’ because she is secretly writing an account of her own life when she is of great age in the mental institution where she’s been put for the last 60 years.”
Dinitia Smith of the New York Times Book Review wrote that Barry’s language in the book is “like a song, with all the pulse of the Irish language, a song sung liltingly and plaintively from the top of Ben Bulben into the airy night.”
“We are delighted to be the home of Sebastian Barry’s archive and pleased that he has received this important honor,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center. “In the tradition of great Irish writers–James Joyce and William Butler Yeats to name but two–Sebastian Barry has written poetically about the weight of Irish history on its people, and one is immediately struck by the humanity that pervades his remarkable works.”
The Center’s collection of Barry’s material was acquired in 2001 and includes literary papers, drafts of Barry’s published and unpublished works, illustrations, personal and business correspondence, notebooks, photographs, personal papers and clippings.
The Center obtained additional Barry material, mostly correspondence, in 2005.
The award was announced Tuesday evening at a dinner in London. The Costa Book Awards honors books in five categories each year: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book. The winner in each category is eligible to be selected as the overall winner of the Book of the Year award. Barry won the Costa Prize for Novel, which was announced in November.
Other finalists for the award included Sadie Jones for her debut novel, “The Outcast,” Diana Athill for her memoir, “Somewhere Towards the End,” Adam Foulds for his work of poetry about the Mau Mau uprisings in Kenya, “The Broken Word,” and Michelle Magorian for her children’s book, “Just Henry.”
The Costa Book Awards originated in 1971 as the Whitbread Literary Awards. They were known as the Whitbread Book Awards from 1985 to 2006, when Costa Coffee took over ownership.
Information about the Costa Book Awards can be found online.
Visit the Ransom Center’s Web site to listen to Barry read an excerpt from “The Secret Scripture.”