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Poet Stephen Sexton awarded the 2020 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

Stephen Sexton

Irish poet, Stephen Sexton, has been awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature 2020, for his first collection of works, Oils & If All the World and Love Were Young.

The Rooney Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding body of work by an emerging Irish writer under 40 years of age. Stephen, who lives in Derry, where he teaches at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in Queen’s University School of Arts, English and Languages, accepted the award at an online ceremony. He said:

“I’m overjoyed to be the 2020 recipient of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. I’m immensely grateful to the committee of judges and to Peter Rooney and the Rooney family, whose generosity makes possible this award and its ongoing celebration of Irish writing. It’s a particular joy to look back through more than 40 years previous recipients and to see writers whose work and grace have been so important to me, and to think of my name on the list next to theirs. I’m honoured.”

The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature has been awarded annually since 1976 and is one of the most distinguished of Irish literary awards. The Prize is adjudicated by a panel of judges and administered by the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre for Creative Writing in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin.

Chair of the panel, Jonathan Williams, explains what stood out about Stephen’s work:

“Here is a discerning, erudite and versatile poet who has reflected creatively about both history and everyday life, including his childhood years and family background, memory, the loss of a beloved mother, the composition of the earth, plants, flowers, animals, fellow poets, and the abiding past. The jurors are confident that Stephen Sexton will fulfil his prodigious promise in the years to come.”

The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature is valued at €10,000 through the generosity of Dr Peter Rooney, who continues the Rooney family’s association with Irish Literature and support for the longest-established literary prize in Ireland.

Dr Peter Rooney, who attended the ceremony, says:

“Once again our judges have picked an outstanding example of emerging Irish literary talent.  Stephen’s poetry takes his readers on a beautiful, and sometimes tragic, journey; a modern elegy that intertwines a pastoral landscape with video game imagery. Stephen’s extraordinary talent is undeniable and he is a most deserving winner of this year’s Rooney Prize.”

The Rooney Prize for Literature

The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature is awarded annually to an emerging Irish writer under forty years of age, through the generosity of the late Dr Daniel Rooney, a former US Ambassador to Ireland, and former Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh, USA and his wife Patricia. Dr Peter Rooney, their nephew, and his husband, Mr John Curran, will continue to support the longest-established literary award in Ireland.

The prize was established in 1976 and until 2007 it was administered by Mr Jim Sherwin. Since 2007 the prize has been administered in the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing of the School of English.

It should be noted that the prize is awarded for a body of work that the selection committee considers to be one of exceptional promise. A single remarkable work may warrant an award but the committee is keen to consider writers who have begun to establish an oeuvre. Publishers who may wish to bring the committee's attention to a writer or writers whom they think should be considered for the prize, may seek further details of how to do so from Ms Sophia Ní Sheoin ( at the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre. One should note that in its deliberations, the committee is not limited to such suggestions.

The selection committee for the Rooney Prize comprises: Jonathan Williams, Literary Agent (Chair); Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, poet, critic and editor (Fellow Emeritus, TCD); Michael Cronin, Director of Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation and Professor of French, TCD; Carlo Gébler, novelist, playwright and prison teacher; Sinéad Mac Aodha O’Dwyer, Executive Director of Literature Ireland; and Rosie Lavan, critic (Assistant Professor of English TCD).

Previous Winners of the Rooney Prize