Ian McEwan is often described as our ‘greatest living novelist’, an epithet earned through receiving the highest literary accolades for his books while also achieving enormous commercial success. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize on numerous occasions, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976. The Child in Time, won the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993). His best-selling novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). In 2006 he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Saturday, and On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards. He was made a CBE in 2000.
McEwan gained a BA degree in English Literature in 1970 from the University of Sussex and went to take an MA at the University of East Anglia. Of his years at Sussex, he remembers he was “a fairly hard-working student, left of centre politically, rather than 60s radical”. He says he was instinctively drawn to “the variety of intellectual fusions on offer at Sussex”, in particular by the way history and historiography was built into the literature courses. “The tutorial system was stimulating, I thought. In retrospect, the demanding three essays every two weeks taught me to respect deadlines and to think quickly.”
He recalls he also fell in love, learned to cook, drove a ramshackle car, and took up Richard Attenborough’s offer to Sussex students to be an extra in ‘O! What a lovely war'.