Costa Prize 2009
Diana Athill, the ninety-one-year-old author and former editor, won the Costa Prize for biography last night. She is the oldest person to ever win a Costa. Her memoir, Somewhere Towards the End (Granta Books), was published last year to acclaim. The Costa judges called the book ‘a perfect memoir of old age... candid, detailed, charming, totally lacking in self pity or sentimentality and, above all, beautifully, beautifully written’. Sebastian Barry (fifty-three) won the novel prize for The Secret Scripture (Faber), a critical favourite which was also shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.
Athill has had a storied life, a life which she has recounted in stories, in five volumes of memoir, all published by Granta Books. She worked for the BBC throughout the Second World War and helped establish the publishing company André Deutsch, whose authors included Norman Mailer, John Updike, Philip Roth and V.S. Naipaul. Her distinguished career as an editor is the subject of her fourth memoir, Stet (2000). She has also written a novel, Don’t Look at Me Like That (1967). Athill is one of Granta magazine’s contributing editors.
In Somewhere Towards the End, Athill writes with intimate honesty about friendship, love, sex and sore feet. The book addresses what it means to be old and to face death every day, but still have the strength to strive for life with an unquenchable curiosity for all that it brings.
The overall winner of the Costa Prize will be announced on 27 January.