The acclaimed writer and academic won the coveted award, which celebrates debut fiction by Irish female writers
By Ellen Gough
Emilie Pine has taken home the 2023 Kate O’Brien Award for debut fiction at the Limerick Literary Festival this weekend.
Pine won the award for her debut novel Ruth & Pen, presented on Sunday, February 26 at the Belltable in Limerick City.
In its ninth year, the Kate O’Brien Award was established in 2015 and celebrates new Irish writing by female authors. It is an honorary award, presented for a debut book; either a book of short stories or a novel.
“I have studied and written about Kate O’Brien and so it’s just such a privilege to specifically get this award,” Pine said.
Already acclaimed for her 2018 essay collection Notes To Self, Emilie Pine is a Professor of Modern Drama in the School of English, Drama and Film at University College Dublin and has previously published widely as an academic and critic.
Her debut work of fiction Ruth & Pen was published last year and tells the stories of two women on a single day in Dublin.
Speaking on the significance of an accolade such as the Kate O’Brien Award, Pine explained that; “To feel like you have been noticed is really, really important.”
“Because of the self-doubt, I think, and because of that sense of the precarity of writing and the idea that you’ve connected with a reader is really, really important. And I think Kate O’Brien has such an incredible life story and legacy as a writer,” she continued.
Poet and Limerick Literary Festival committee member Vivienne McKechnie, one of the judges of the award, echoed Pine’s sentiments.
“We thought that female writers had needed recognition, particularly in relation to Kate O’Brien, who had been banned during her lifetime and had struggled – not as a writer – but in the publishing world. So we felt that in honour of Kate O’Brien, it would give young writers – or mature writers or any kind of age writer – a boost into the world and acknowledge the journey that it took to get a debut out into the world.”
Also shortlisted for the award were Olivia Fitzsimons for her debut novel The Quiet Whispers Never Stop, and Sheila Armstrong for her short story collection How To Gut A Fish.
Despite not winning, both were delighted to have been nominated for such a prize.
For Fitzsimons, a screenwriter and mother of two, the lack of an age limit for applicants highlights an important fact of modern writing.
“Because I’m older, there are so many awards that I’m not eligible for because I’m over 40. I think that for other writers, it’s good to see that we’re just a bit more experienced… we all have very different ways of getting here.”
“Women writers, especially, often have so many other pressures on their life that take up so much time,” Armstrong, a literary editor, added.
“So being recognised, specifically as female writers and as debuts – it’s massive.”
The Kate O’Brien Award also includes a cash prize. The €2,000 purse was generously sponsored by Bill Whelan, composer and producer of Riverdance, and his wife Denise.
The judges for this year’s award, along with McKechnie, were committee member Marie Hackett, writer and critic Niall MacMonagle, writer and children’s book buyer for O’Mahony’s Bookshop, Grainne O’Brien, and novelist Donal Ryan.
The Limerick Literary Festival takes place each February to honour the life and works of the Limerick author, Kate O’Brien.