Ian McEwan

On this date in 1948, novelist Ian McEwan, the son of a Scottish army officer, was born in Aldershot, England. McEwan spent most of his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa, returning to England in his teens. He attended the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia, becoming the first graduate of writer Malcolm Bradbury's newly introduced creative writing course. McEwan's first published work was a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites (1975), winning the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976, soon followed by two novels: The Cement Garden (1978), and The Comfort of Strangers (1981). McEwan's novels, which have a dark edge, exploring the multifaceted sides of human nature, have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. A Child in Time received the 1987 Whitbread Novel Award and the Prix Femina Etranger award in 1993. He won the 1998 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel, Amsterdam. Atonement won Germany's 1999 Shakespeare Prize, the 2002 WH Smith Literary Award, the 2003 National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award, the 2003 Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction, and the 2004 Santiago Prize for the European Novel. This novel was also made into a critically-acclaimed movie, released in 2007, starring Keira Knightley. McEwan's novel, Saturday, was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2005. On Chesil Beach was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize. McEwan has also written a number of produced screenplays, a stage play, children's fiction and an oratorio. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, of the Royal Society of Arts, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as being a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.

A self-proclaimed atheist, McEwan speaks openly on the subject. A friend of Richard Dawkins, he is featured in Dawkins' UK Channel 4 series on religion, "The Root of All Evil?"(2006). His freethought views are also expressed by some of his characters. Henry Perowne, in Saturday, defines the supernatural as "the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real, of the demanding re-enactment of the plausible." The character reflects on curiosity that has been "hijacked by peddlers of fakery," and the religious "inability to contemplate your own unimportance." In an interview in The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 2, 2007), McEwan, musing about Atonement's character, Briony, said: "Yes, I am an atheist, and probably Briony is, too. Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It's a little easier if you've got a god to forgive you." In a The New Republic interview (Jan. 21, 2008), McEwan stated: "I'm an atheist. I really don't believe for a moment that our moral sense comes from a God . . . It's human, universal, [it's] being able to think our way into the minds of others . . . people who do not have a sky god and don't have a set of supernatural beliefs assert their belief in moral values and in love and in the transcendence that they might experience in landscape or art or music or sculpture or whatever. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, it makes them give more value to life itself. The little spark that we do have becomes all the more valuable when you can't be trading off any moments for eternity . . . My own view of religion is that people must be free to worship all the gods they want. But it's only the secular spirit that will guarantee that freedom . . ."

Photo by Thesupermat under CC 3.0

“I find that life is rich, diverse, fabulous, and extraordinary, conceived without a god.”

—Interview, NPR affiliate KUSP, Capitola, Calif., Feb. 16, 1998

(Compiled by Jane Esbensen)

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