Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine awarded Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

24 Sep 2019

From left: Mark O'Connell and Dr Peter Rooney. Image: Trinity College Dublin

O’Connell’s debut dealing with transhumanism has become the first non-fiction book to receive the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

On Monday (23 September), Kilkenny-born author Mark O’Connell was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature 2019 at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). O’Connell won the award for his debut book, To Be a Machine, which is an exploration of transhumanism.

O’Connell, who has a PhD in English literature from TCD, is the first author to receive the Rooney Prize for a work of non-fiction. Prior to completing his PhD, O’Connell studied English and philosophy at the university as an undergrad.

Member of the prize jury Prof Michael Cronin said: “In his book which takes a personal look at the transhumanist movement – a movement which hopes through technology to enhance human capacities and eventually overcome human mortality – Mark O’Connell shows himself to be a writer of the first rank.

“His faultless characterisation, his deep interest in the humanity of his transhumanist, his engagingly precise but poetic style, his richly insightful observations on questions which are literally life and death issues, marked him out as a writer of unquestionable promise.”

O’Connell said that it was “a delight and a real surprise” to win the accolade. “It’s especially thrilling to be the first writer of non-fiction to be awarded the prize. I’m deeply grateful to the prize committee and to the Rooney family for this wonderful honour.”

The author was awarded €10,000 as part of the prize.

Literature prizes

O’Connell’s 2017 book was highlighted by The Guardian as Book of the Day shortly after its release. At the time, the publication called it “a captivating exploration of transhumanism [that] features cryonics, cyborgs, immortality and the hubris of Silicon Valley.”

While presenting the award to the author, Dr Peter Rooney, whose uncle Dan Rooney set up the prize, said: “I am delighted to see the award go to a writer of such original and fresh writing. The vision for it has always been to reward new talent and Mark is most deserving of this year’s award.”

Dan Rooney was the former US Ambassador to Ireland and was president of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. He passed away two years ago. The prize is administered by the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish writing at TCD’s School of English.

Former winners include Anne Enright, Frank McGuinness, Sara Baume and Colin Barrett, among others.

Elsewhere, six writers are in the running for The Royal Society Science Book Prize 2019, which honours popular science books from around the world that are aimed at non-specialist readers.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic