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Heaney Takes U.K.'s Whitbread Prize
Judith Rosen and Judy Quinn -- 2/7/00

Nobel Prize-winning p t Seamus Heaney's new translation of the 1,000-year-old epic p m Beowulf was awarded the £21,000 ($33,000) Whitbread Book of the Year Award. The book is published in the U.K. by Faber & Faber and in the U.S. by W.W. Norton. This is the fourth consecutive year that p try has won the prize.

The panel of judges (which included the glamorous model Jerry Hall) voted five to four for Heaney, and the decision sparked a bit of a row. J.K. Rowling's bestselling Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Bloomsbury) had been widely expected to win, and would have been the first children's book to do so. Some of the judges thought that selecting Rowling's novel would show that books still matter to young people in an age of videos and computers. In a newspaper article, judge A.N. Wilson described Beowulf as a "boring book about dragons," and said that he had wasted years of his life teaching the p m at Oxford. Judge Anthony Holden, on the other hand, said choosing Harry Potter would have shown the world that "Britain is a country that just can't grow up."

Heaney's U.S. publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, went back to press for an additional 5,000 copies to supplement the 15,000-copy first printing of the book, which g s on sale February 23. The 208-page, $25 hardcover will be stickered with notice of the award. Heaney originally was commissioned to do his translation for the recently published seventh edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Heaney is expected to come to the U.S. in March.

Although it didn't win the big prize J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Bloomsbury) was awarded the £10,000 ($16,000) prize for the best children's book.

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