Samuel Barclay Beckett, Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 23, 1969. Beckett lives in Paris for most of his adult life and writes in both English and French. He is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984.
Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human existence, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour, and becomes increasingly minimalist in his later career. He is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin calls the “Theatre of the Absurd.” Waiting for Godot is generally regarded as his best-known play.
In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with his wife Suzanne, Beckett hears that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne calls the award a “catastrophe.” In true ascetic fashion, he gives away all of the prize money. While Beckett does not devote much time to interviews, he sometimes meets the artists, scholars, and admirers who seek him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home. Although Beckett is an intensely private man, a review of the second volume of his letters by Roy Foster in the December 15, 2011 issue of The New Republic reveals Beckett to be not only unexpectedly amiable but frequently prepared to talk about his work and the process behind it.
Confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, Beckett dies on 22 December 22, 1989, just five months after the passing of Suzanne. The two are interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”
Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett’s work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He opens up the possibility of theatre and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of time and place in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.
On December 10, 2009, a new bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin is opened and named the Samuel Beckett Bridge in his honour. Reminiscent of a harp on its side, it is designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream. The newest ship of the Irish Naval Service, the LÉ Samuel Beckett (P61), is named for Beckett. An Ulster History Circle blue plaque in his memory is located at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.