YORK ALUMNA HELEN Dunmore was posthumously awarded the Costa Book of the Year award for her final poetry collection Inside the Wave, published in April of 2017.
The author, who has written 12 novels and poetry collections was the second author to have won the award posthumously; the other winner was Ted Hughes in 1998. Inside the Wave was her eighth poetry anthology and addressed her terminal cancer and impending death. One of the poems included was written just 10 days before her death in June 2017, aged 64. Throughout her career, she was nominated for or won nine different literary awards for both poetry and prose works.
A University spokesperson told Nouse: “We are proud of all of our alumni, many of whom achieve outstanding success in their chosen careers. We were deeply saddened to hear of the death of Helen Dunmore last year but delighted she was posthumously honoured for her final poetry collection.”
Emeritus Professor in the English and Related Literature Department, Derek Attridge, also praised her, saying: “Helen Dunmore has left us a last gift, a collection of verse that exemplifies her craft and sensibility at their best. These are poems written from her hospital bed that are hard to read just as poems, knowing as we do what she was facing as she wrote them, but most of the collection celebrates the variety and concreteness of being alive.
“When, as Head of the English Department, I contacted her about a reading in York, I discovered that she still had warm memories of her time as a student here. Few of our alumni have contributed to the continuing vitality of English literature”.
Dunmore, who was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, was born in Beverley in East Yorkshire in 1952 and attended the University of York in the early 1970s. Her most famous novels included A Spell of Winter (1995), a gothic fiction on World War I which won the inaugural Orange Prize, The Siege (2002) and its sequel The Betrayal (2010) which were set during and after the siege of Leningrad in World War II. The Betrayal was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
The Costa Book of the Year winner is selected from five books which have already won prizes as either novels, first novels, biographies, poetry or children’s books. Inside the Wave contained 50 poems and was described by the judges as “an astonishing set of poems – a final, great achievement”. Its proximity to her passing cannot be ignored; Hold out your Arms, the final poem included in the collection was composed just 10 days before her death.