The annual Pat Kavanagh Prize – created in 2008 in memory of the much-admired literary agent – has been awarded to Goldsmiths, University of London MA Creative and Life writing alumnus Aileen Maguire.
Maguire won the £500 prize for her short stories, ‘The Commute’ and ‘Amir’, both of which follow ageing male protagonists through fumbling attempts at romantic connection.
The nameless narrator in ‘The Commute’ lives in an undeveloped subdivision in the far outskirts of Vancouver and feels estranged from his marriage and suburban lifestyle, leading him on a course toward their destruction. ‘Amir’, set against the political backdrop of bilingual Montreal, tells the story of a man in his fifties struggling with dating in the modern era, while a dominant language encroaches on his city and his daughter’s francophone identity.
The award was presented by United Agents’ Sarah Ballard on Wednesday 22 January, following readings by the shortlisted writers, who submitted short stories, poems or extracts from novels or life-writing completed during their Goldsmiths MAs.
Aileen Maguire’s career in education and the not-for-profit sector took her from her hometown of Vancouver, to Istanbul, and then to London. She began writing fiction after several years in the UK as a way of reconnecting with her native Canada. During the completion of her Goldsmiths MA in 2019, her interests centred on voice and atmosphere in shorter fiction. She is currently working on a collection of stories about the weird and wonderful in Canada’s cities.
This year’s runner-up was alumnus Ingrid Rolington, a book and magazine publisher who moved to the Arts Council and then Vocaleyes, the charity supporting access to the arts for visually impaired people. Her work is a piece of life writing about a trip to Germany with her mother, who grew up there during the Second World War.
Now in its 11th year, the Prize was introduced in memory of Pat Kavanagh, who died in 2008. A literary agent for more than 40 years, her high-profile clients included Tom Wolfe, Joanna Trollope, Robert Harris, John Irving and her husband Julian Barnes. Kavanagh was among the “rebels” who left one of the oldest agencies in the UK to set up United Agents in 2007.
The Pat Kavanagh Prize is judged and awarded by Kavanagh’s colleagues at United Agents (as many as 13 were involved this year), in association with the Goldsmiths’ Writers Centre.
Work by graduates who had achieved a distinction in their MA was submitted to United Agents earlier this year. This year’s cohort of MA graduates was particularly strong, with 24 distinctions awarded. The eight students shortlisted were Rolington, Maguire, Nikkitha Bakshani, Ella Duffy, Lorna Elcock, Shelley Hastings, Elizabeth McFarlane and Debra Waters.
Previous winners of the Pat Kavanagh Prize are Jonathan Holt, David Nash, Giovanna Iozzi, Julia Rotte, Luiza Sauma, Paul Carney, Bex Barton, Karen Raney, Kate Kerrow and Lisa Smith. Winning the Pat Kavanagh Prize has acted as a catalyst for publication for work by many of these writers.