Cancer survivor wins major literary prize

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25:  Author Jo Shapc...
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Jo Shapcott wins prize with her poetry

She survived breast cancer – then went on to beat five other major contenders to win the overall Book of the Year prize in the prestigious Costa Book of the Year competition.

Her poetry, described as “candid and dark”, draws on her recent battle with cancer.  She was treated at Hereford County Hospital, and thanks her ‘team’  that treated her, in the acknowledgements in her book  ‘Of Mutability‘.

She said the work was written when she was recovering from breast cancer, although the disease is not mentioned explicitly. However, the opening lines

Too many of the best cells in my body

are itching, feeling jagged, turning raw

will strike a chord with many cancer survivors.

A judging panel chaired by broadcaster Andrew Neil awarded the prize, second only to the Man Booker in terms of literary merit, to the 57-year-old English poet at a ceremony in London.

The award recognised Shapcott’s 2010 work Of Mutability, which tackles deeply personal themes such as cell deterioration and death, and beat the bookies’ favourite, Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes.

And the prize?  Apart from the honour and the glory, Shapcott receives a cheque for £30,000.  Adterwards she said she was “accepting it on behalf of poetry”.   And added, “I was shocked … I really wasn’t thinking this was possible, especially since poetry won last year.”

The Book of the Year prize, worth £30,000, recognises the overall winner from the Costas’ five individual categories: biography, children’s literature, novel, first novel and poetry. These were won by De Waal, Jason Wallace, Maggie O’Farrell, Kishwar Desai and Shapcott respectively, with category winners being announced in a separate ceremony earlier this year.

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