Emyr Humphreys, born in 1919 in Prestatyn, north Wales, is one of the foremost Welsh novelists writing in English. He is the author of over twenty novels, of short story volumes, verse and non-fiction work, and was described by the poet R. S. Thomas as ‘the supreme interpreter of Welsh life’.
In the early 40’s, as a conscientious objector, and whilst studying history at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, he was sent to work on the land during the Second World War. He subsequently went as a war relief worker to the Middle East and then to Italy, where he worked for Save the Children. In the mid-fifties, he joined BBC Wales as a drama producer, before taking a lectureship in Drama at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1972, after remarkable success as a young novelist, winning the Somerset Maugham Award for Hear and Forgive (1952) and the Hawthornden Prize for A Toy Epic (1958), his most famous novel, written in both Welsh and English, he embarked on a career as a full-time writer.
His work, which has remained true throughout his career to the realist novel, is concerned with goodness, with social and political conscience. It has been described as reflecting the passionate concerns of the past century with freedom, autonomy and a post-imperial assertion of human rights, as exploring the impact of globalization on the way we communicate. And as written in the Times Literary Supplement, ‘just as the modernists doubted the ability of language to “say just what I mean”, so Humphreys recontextualizes the modernist preoccupation as a particularly pernicious aspect of materialism. Mass culture is an opiate, which the necessarily singular voice of the fiction writer must (in however beleaguered a manner) continue to oppose.’ In his volume of short stories, Old People are a Problem (Seren, 2003), he explores a variety of situations in which the young and the old are obliged to live together at the beginning of the 21st century. His most recent work is The Shop (Seren, 2005).
In 2014 A Toy Epic was selected for the Schwob list of modern classic must-reads. The novel will be amongst titles pitched by Schwob to publishers across Europe likely to be interested in purchasing translation rights. ‘The sort of writer who would be in the running for a Nobel Prize if Wales had lobbyists in Stockholm.’ The Observer