seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Christopher Nolan Wins Whitbread Book Award

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christopher-nolanChristopher Nolan, Irish poet and author who cannot move or speak because of an accident at birth, wins the Whitbread Book Award on January 19, 1987, for his autobiography Under the Eye of the Clock.

Nolan is born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, on September 6, 1965, the son of Joseph and Bernadette Nolan. Due to asphyxiation at birth, he is born with permanent impairment of his “nerve-signaling system, a condition he said is now labelled dystonia.” Because of these complications, he is born with cerebral palsy, and can only move his head and eyes. To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while he painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.

Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic school, Mount Temple Comprehensive School, and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published when he is fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the UK, the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. At the age of fifteen, he publishes his collection of poems titled Dam-Burst of Dreams. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the UK’s Whitbread Book Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).

Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce‘s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”

Christopher Nolan dies at age 43 in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009, after a piece of salmon becomes trapped in his airway. Irish president Mary McAleese, upon hearing the news, says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”

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