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Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 22:49 GMT


Poet Laureate wins Whitbread Book Award
image: [ Hughes' Tales from Ovid had already won the Whibread Poetry Award ]
Hughes' Tales from Ovid had already won the Whibread Poetry Award

The Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who last week stunned the literary world with a series of previously unknown poems to his tragic poet wife Sylvia Plath, has won the 21,000 Whitbread Book Award.

Hughes, who was favourite to win the award, had already picked up the Whitbread Poetry Award for his book, Tales from Ovid.

He has since published Birthday Letters, impassioned verses about his wife and fellow poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963 after the couple separated.

[ image: Melvyn Bragg picked up the award on behalf of Hughes]
Melvyn Bragg picked up the award on behalf of Hughes
Illness prevented 67-year-old Hughes, who is reclusive, from collecting his award at Tuesday night's Whitbread dinner in London and it was accepted on his behalf by arts presenter Melvyn Bragg.

It was a good night for "the classics" as Aquila by Andrew Norriss, about two boys learning Latin, scooped the 10,000 Children's Book of the Year.

Judges insisted that the explosion of interest in Hughes' work since the publication of the 88 poems addressed to Plath had not influenced their decision.

Fay Weldon explains the judges' decision (0' 12")
Novelist Fay Weldon said: "I certainly read the Ovid a long time before Birthday Letters were out there."

Chairman of the judges, Professor Jeremy Treglown, from the University of Warwick, said: "I don't think these were judges that would be swayed by this month's thing."

They had not been unanimous, but there was no real dissent from the eventual winner, he said.

Hughes's work was one of "greatness and sublimity", he said.

"We felt that it was a stupendous achievement to be able to bring back this first century author whose stories are so deeply embedded in our culture."

The other shortlisted works were novel award winner Quarantine by Jim Crace, first novel The Ventriloquist's Tale by Pauline Melville, and Victor Hugo by Graham Robb, which won best biography.

They all won 2,000 in their categories, announced previously.

The judges were:

  • the outgoing Arts Council chairman Lord Gowrie
  • the writer and former Tory MP Edwina Currie
  • the television presenter Jonathan Ross
  • the editor of The Times Peter Stothard
  • the writer Fay Weldon
  • biographer Selina Hastings
  • novelist Helen Dunmore

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage

Relevant Stories

27 Jan 98|UK
Poet Laureate favourite for book award

27 Jan 98|UK
Four compete for prestigious award

17 Jan 98|UK
Hughes breaks silence over Plath

Internet Links

The Ted Hughes pages: unofficial site

Faber and Faber: Ted Hughes site

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
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