Sean O'Brien (writer)

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Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien by Gerry Wardle.jpg
Born (1952-12-19) 19 December 1952 (age 68)
Genrespoet, critic, playwright

Sean O'Brien (born 19 December 1952 in London) is a British poet, critic and playwright. His prizes include the Eric Gregory Award (1979), the Somerset Maugham Award (1984), the Cholmondeley Award (1988), the Forward Poetry Prize (1995, 2001 and 2007) and the T. S. Eliot Prize (2007). He is one of only three poets (the others being Ted Hughes and John Burnside) to have won both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same collection of poems (The Drowned Book). He grew up in Hull, and was educated at Hymers College and Selwyn College, Cambridge.[1] He has lived in Newcastle upon Tyne since 1990, where he teaches at the university.[2] He was the Weidenfeld Visiting Professor at St. Anne's College, Oxford for 2016-17.[3]


O Brien's book of essays on contemporary poetry, The Deregulated Muse (Bloodaxe), was published in 1998, as was his anthology The Firebox: Poetry in Britain and Ireland after 1945 (Picador). Cousin Coat: Selected Poems 1976–2001 (Picador) was published in 2002. Sean O'Brien's new verse version of Dante's Inferno was published by Picador in October 2006. His six collections of poetry to date have all won awards. In 2007 he won the Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award, Forward Prize for Best Collection and the T S Eliot Prize for The Drowned Book (Picador, 2007). This was the first time a poet had been awarded the Forward and the Eliot prizes in the same year. In 2006, he was appointed Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and was previously Professor of Poetry at Sheffield Hallam University. He is a Vice-President of the Poetry Society.[4] He was co-founder of the literary magazine The Printer's Devil and contributes reviews to newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times and The Times Literary Supplement and is a regular broadcaster on radio. His writing for television includes "Cousin Coat", a poem-film in Wordworks (Tyne Tees Television, 1991); "Cantona", a poem-film in On the Line (BBC2, 1994); Strong Language, a 45-minute poem-film (Channel 4, 1997) and The Poet Who Left the Page, a profile of Simon Armitage (BBC4, 2002). Other significant work includes a radio adaptation for BBC Radio 4 of "We" by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Awards and honours[edit]

  • 1979 – Eric Gregory Award
  • 1984 – Somerset Maugham Award – The Indoor Park
  • 1988 – Cholmondeley Award
  • 1992 Northern Arts Literary Fellowship
  • 1993 – E. M. Forster Award[5]
  • 1995 – Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) – Ghost Train[6]
  • 2001 – Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) – Downriver
  • 2001 – Northern Writer of the Year Award
  • 2001 – T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) – Downriver
  • 2006 – Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem for Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright)
  • 2007 – Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award[7]
  • 2007 – Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection) – The Drowned Book
  • 2007 – T. S. Eliot Prize – The Drowned Book[8]
  • 2007 – Royal Society of Literature fellowship
  • 2012 – Griffin Poetry Prize International shortlist – November



  • The indoor park. Bloodaxe. 1983.
  • 1987: The Frighteners (Bloodaxe)
  • 1989: Boundary Beach (Ulsterman Publications)
  • 1991: HMS Glasshouse (Oxford University Press)
  • 1993: A Rarity (Carnivorous Arpeggio)
  • 1995: Ghost Train (Oxford University Press)
  • 1995: Penguin Modern Poets 5 (with Simon Armitage and Tony Harrison) (Penguin)
  • 1997: The Ideology (Smith/Doorstep)
  • 2001: Downriver (Picador)
  • 2002: Cousin Coat: Selected Poems 1976–2001 (Picador)
  • 2002: Rivers (with John Kinsella and Peter Porter) (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Australia)
  • 2006: Inferno: a verse version of Dante's Inferno (Picador)
  • 2007: The Drowned Book (Picador)
  • 2009: Night Train (with artist Birtley Aris) (Flambard Press)[9]
  • 2011: November (Picador)
  • 2015: The Beautiful Librarians (Picador)
  • 2018: Europa (Picador)
  • 2019: Contributor to A New Divan, A Lyrical Dialogue between East and West, Gingko Library, ISBN 9781909942554
Anthologies (edited)
  • 1998: The Firebox: Poetry in Britain and Ireland after 1945 (editor) (Picador)
  • 2008: Andrew Marvell: poems selected by Sean O'Brien (Poet to Poet series, Faber and Faber)
List of poems
Title Year First published Reprinted/collected
Café de L’Imprimerie 2014 O'Brien, Sean (12 May 2014). "Café de L'Imprimerie". The New Yorker. 90 (12): 35.



  • 2008: Afterlife (Picador)

Short fiction[edit]

  • 2005: Ellipsis 1: Short Stories by Sean O'Brien, Jean Sprackland and Tim Cooke (Comma Press)
  • 2005: Phantoms at the Phil (with Chaz Brenchley and Gail-Nina Anderson) (Side Real/Northern Gothic)
  • 2006: Phantoms at the Phil- The Second Proceedings (with Chaz Brenchley and Gail-Nina Anderson) (Side Real/Northern Gothic)
  • 2007: Phantoms at the Phil- The Third Proceedings (with Chaz Brenchley and Gail-Nina Anderson) (Side Real/Northern Gothic)
  • 2008: The Silence Room (Comma Press)

Literary criticism[edit]

  • 1998: The Deregulated Muse: Essays on Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (Bloodaxe)


  1. ^ Selwyn College Freshmen 1971
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The Poetry Society". The Poetry Society. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  5. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters – Home". Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  6. ^ Forward Arts Foundation Archived 30 July 2012 at
  7. ^ "The Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award 2007". The Northern Rock Foundation. 22 March 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 23 March 2007.
  8. ^ BBC News: "O'Brien honoured with poetry win".
  9. ^ "Flambard Press". Flambard Press. 26 September 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  10. ^ a b c "Bloomsbury - Sean O'Brien - Sean O'Brien". Retrieved 14 November 2020.


  • The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry ed. Ian Hamilton (OUP, 1996)
  • The Idea of North Peter Davidson (Reaktion Books, 2005)

External links[edit]