In an online award ceremony last night, (Sept 29) Conor O’Clery was announced as the winner of the 2020 Royal Irish Academy Michel Déon Prize for non-fiction with his book The Shoemaker and his Daughter (Penguin Randomhouse).
The Shoemaker and His Daughter is an epic story of one ordinary family, spanning the Second World War to the fall of the Soviet Union, taking in eighty years of Soviet and Russian history, from Stalin to Putin.
Professor Michael Cronin, Chair of the Royal Irish Academy’s judging committee said ‘Conor’s book is masterfully written, cleverly and sensitively telling the story of the experiences of his wife Zhanna’s Armenian family and their memories, while exploring 80 years of Soviet history. Any of the outstanding shortlisted authors Sinéad Gleeson, Caelainn Hogan, Margaret Kelleher, Ian Maleney or Éilís Ní Dhuibhne would have been worthy winners.’
Simon Coveney, TD, Minister of Foreign Affairs also congratulated Conor O’Clery and all the shortlisted writers:
“The Michel Déon Prize supports modern writers of non-fiction and new artists who seek to develop and strengthen their cultural work. The Cultural Sector has suffered disproportionately during this pandemic and Ireland is increasingly putting culture at the heart of its relations with other countries, so it is fitting that the Department of Foreign Affairs funds this prize.”
Michel Déon one of the most innovative and reflective French writers of the twentieth century who lived in Ireland from the 1970s until his death in 2016. He published over 50 works of fiction and non-fiction and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Prix Interallié for his 1970 novel, Les Poneys sauvages (The Wild Ponies). Déon’s 1973 novel Un taxi mauve received the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française and in 1978 he was elected to the Académie française.
The Michel Déon Prize was created in 2018 to honour Déon’s legacy and to continue his work of championing writing talent. The Prize was created at the initiative of Ireland’s Embassy in Paris and Ireland’s Honorary Consul General in the South of France, Pierre Joannon. Mr Joannon also paid tribute to his close friend and fellow author during today’s award ceremony.
Conor O’Clery holds a unique perspective on the former Soviet Union, as resident Irish Times correspondent during the last four years of communism and as a frequent visitor since then, having married into a Russian-Armenian family in Krasnoyarsk. After Moscow he was a foreign correspondent in Washington, Beijing and New York. He has been twice awarded Journalist of the Year, for his dispatches from Moscow and for his reporting of the 9/11 attacks in New York. He is the author of several books.
The €10,000 prize for the winning author is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Prize is awarded in France every second year by the Académie française, Conor will also get the opportunity to give ‘The Michel Déon Lecture’ in France in 2021. Read more about the prize here.