Owen Sheers was born in Suva, Fiji, in 1974 and brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales. He was educated at King Henry VIII comprehensive school, Abergavenny, New College, Oxford, where he captained the Oxford University Modern Pentathlon team, and at the University of East Anglia where he completed an MA in Creative Writing. He worked on The Big Breakfast as a researcher.
The winner of an Eric Gregory Award and the 1999 Vogue Young Writer's Award, his first collection of poetry, The Blue Book (Seren, 2000), -a collection of poems about family, first love and farming life - was short-listed for the Wales Book of the Year and the Forward Poetry Prize Best 1st Collection, 2001. His debut prose work The Dust Diaries (Faber 2004), a non-fiction narrative set in Zimbabwe, was short-listed for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize and won the Wales Book of the Year 2005.
In 2004 Sheers was Writer in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust and was selected as one of the Poetry Book Society’s 20 Next Generation Poets. Sheers' 2nd collection of poetry, Skirrid Hill (Seren, 2005) won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award. Unicorns, almost his one man play based on the life and poetry of the WWII poet Keith Douglas was developed by Old Vic, New Voices, and performed by Joseph Fiennes.
Sheers' first novel, Resistance, has been translated into ten languages and was short listed for the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Best Book Award 2008 and won a 2008 Hospital Club Creative Award. The novel imagines that the D-day landings have failed and Wales been occupied by the Nazis. Whilst working as a tiler in the South Wales valleys one summer, Sheers had heard about the Auxiliary Units-secret civilian networks that, in the event of an invasion, would have formed a British resistance, but the novel focuses not on fighting "but on the uneasy means of survival open to the women who are left behind". The film of the novel, which Sheers co-wrote, was released in autumn 2011 and starred Andrea Riseborough. Sheers insisted that the film be shot in and around the Black Mountains.
In 2007, Sheers collaborated with composer Rachel Portman on The Water Diviner’s Tale, an oratorio for children which was premièred at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms. In 2007/8 Sheers was a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library.
In 2009, Sheers published the novella 'White Ravens', a contemporary response to the myth of Branwen Daughter of Llyr, written as part of Seren's series of New Stories from the Mabinogion. He published an anthology of British landscape poetry to accompany his TV series of the same title, A Poet's Guide to Britain.
Sheers has also written journalism and reportage for a variety of publications including Granta, The Guardian, Esquire, GQ, The Times and The Financial Times. He wrote a play for BBC Radio 4 about the World War II poet Alun Lewis: If I Should Go Away. In 2011, Sheers wrote the script and novelisation (The Gospel of Us) of The Passion for National Theatre Wales and WildWorks. The Gospel of Us has been re-published by Seren Press. Sheers worked with Michael Sheen co-creating the three-day passion play which unfolded over the Easter weekend of 2011 in Sheen's hometown of Port Talbot. "In Sheers's Neath-flavoured take on the Bible, The Last Supper became pork pies and beer at the Social Club (with music from the Manic Street Preachers), while the Garden of Gethsemane was a scrubby patch of grass on a council estate. "  He participated in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty Six Books where he wrote a short play The Fair & Tender based upon the Book of Ezekiel in the King James Bible
In January 2012, Sheers wrote The Two Worlds of Charlie F, a play based on the experiences of wounded soldiers, many of whom also made up the cast of the production, directed by Stephen Rayne and performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The play has toured the UK and Canada and won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Festival. In 2014 his site specific World War I play 'Mametz' was produced by National Theatre of Wales. His verse drama Pink Mist was first broadcast on Radio 4 and presents an elegy about camaraderie and loss in modern warfare as seen through the stories of serving soldiers in Afghanistan and their families. Pink Mist won the 2014 Welsh Book of the Year and was produced as a stage play by Bristol Old Vic theatre in 2015, winning mentions as a top ten pick the year in The Guardian and The Observer. In April 2015 Owen's libretto for Mark Bowden's oratorio 'A Violence of Gifts' was premiered at St David's Hall, Cardiff. The oratorio was devised as a contemporary response to Hayden's Creation oratorio, and was informed by three days research at CERN.
In 2014 Owen presented a one-hour BBC documentary about the poetry of Dylan Thomas, for which he was shortlisted for a BAFTA Cymru for Best Presenter.
His most recent novel is 'I Saw A Man', published in 2015 in the UK, US and several countries across Europe. The French translation was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger. The film rights for the novel have been bought by FilmFour.
His play, 'Pink Mist', was first staged at the Old Vic in Bristol in 2015. It tells the story of three young Bristolians deployed to Afghanistan. It is their return home to the women in their lives that presents them with their bigger challenges as they all learn to cope with the physical and psychological after effects of war.
Owen is currently Professor of Creativity at Swansea University and teaches poetical imagination at Surrey University
Actor & TV presenter
In 2009, he wrote and presented the BBC 4 series about poetry and the British landscape, A Poet's Guide to Britain. He has also presented The Art of the Sea for BBC 4 and documentaries on the poets Keith Douglas and Dylan Thomas. He has presented several programmes for BBC Radio 3 and 4. In 2008 he presented two episodes of BBC Radio 4's Open Book programme.
Awards and honours
- 1999 Vogue Young Writer’s Award
- 1999 Eric Gregory Award
- 2000 short-listed for the Wales Book of the Year (for The Blue Book)
- 2001 short-listed for Forward Poetry Prize Best 1st Collection
- 2005 Wales Book of the Year (for The Dust Diaries)
- 2006 Somerset Maugham Award (for Skirrid Hill)
- 2008 Hospital Club Creative Award (for Resistance)
- 2008 short-listed for Writers' Guild Best Book Award for Resistance
- 2012 Winner Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award (for 'The Two Worlds of Charlie F')
- 2013 Hay Medal for Poetry
- 2014 Wales Book of the Year (for Pink Mist)
- 2015 Nominated for a BAFTA Cymru for Best Presenter (for A Poet's Guide to Dylan Thomas, BBC 4)
- 2015 short-listed for Prix Femina Etranger for French translation of 'I Saw A Man'