Keith Richards & Paul Simon Pay Tribute To PEN Award Winners Chuck Berry & Leonard Cohen – 2012


Chuck Berry & Leonard Cohen were the recipients of the first annual PEN Awards for Songwriting Excellence at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston Feb 26, 2012

Leonard Cohen explains his refusal of 1968 Governor General’s Award for Literary Merit

Art is the verdict you give to writing that is important, but to write for art is wrong.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From People Are Talking About. Vogue: August 1969.

Leonard Cohen refused the prize awarded to his collection, The  Selected Poems 1956-1968

Note: Originally posted August 2, 2013 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Today’s Leonard Cohen Facebook Post Features His Remarkable Prince Of Asturias Awards Speech

Leonard Cohen's fedora left on chair during his talk

Leonard Cohen’s fedora left on chair during his talk

As ongoing readers may know, I occasionally post at the official Leonard Cohen Facebook Page. Today’s entry features his speech accepting The Prince Of Asturias Award In Letters given in Oviedo on October 21, 2011. Stop by and take a look at Leonard Cohen Facebook.

Mordecai Richler Threatens To Punch Leonard Cohen In The Nose

Mordecai Richler (Nov. 1957)

Mordecai Richler (Nov. 1957)

Mordecai Richler, called “the great shining star of his Canadian literary generation” by Robert Fulford,1 went into full Norman Mailer mode when he learned that Cohen refused to accept his 1968 Governor General’s Award.2

Leonard Cohen Declines The Governor General’s Award

A bit of background is helpful: The Governor General’s Literary Awards, first granted in 1937,  have become Canada’s premier book awards and are viewed as

a significant achievement by both Canadian authors and their publishers. Winning the award has almost always resulted in increased sales.3

In addition, winners since 1951 have received not only medals but also monetary prizes ($250 in 1951; $25,000 in 2007).4

In short, turning down The Governor General’s Literary Award is not a trivial gesture.5

According to the Globe and Mail (28 May 1969, p. 6), Cohen would not accept the honor  for his winning collection, Selected Poems 1956-1968, because

The world is a callous place and [he] would take no gift from it.

He did, however, note, “I would like to be Governor-General.”

Mordecai Richler Responds

According to Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain by Reinhold Kramer,6 Richler (then 38 years old, three years senior to Cohen), infuriated that Cohen refused his Governor General’s Award when Richler wanted to accept his own GG Awards,7

herded him [Leonard Cohen] into the bathroom and bawled him out.

Ira Nadel, writing in Various Positions,8 provides a more detailed account.  The scanned excerpt below  (click on image to enlarge) begins the night of the award ceremonies:


I’m a tad unclear why “I don’t know,” Cohen’s response to Richler’s query about his reason for turning down the award, would be an answer, let alone the only answer, that  would quell Richler’s wrath but, for the record, I think it a good thing that Richler, who also threatened Austin Clarke, another Canadian novelist and short story writer, with a knuckle sandwich,9 settled for venting his spleen verbally rather than resorting to fisticuffs.

Credit Due Department: The image atop this post is credited to Horst Ehricht / Library and Archives Canada / e002712851

Also see Leonard Cohen has second thoughts about poem threatening Norman Mailer after reciting it to Norman Mailer

Note: Originally posted June 5, 2012 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. Mordecai Richler: an obituary tribute by Robert Fulford. The National Post, July 4, 2001. Accessed 05 June 2012 []
  2. 1968 was a rough year for the Governor General’s Award; Hubert Aquin also refused the French language fiction prize for his book, Trou de mémoire. Source:  Wikipedia []
  3. The Governor General’s Literary Awards  by John H. Meier, Jr. McMaster University web site. Accessed 05 June 2012 []
  4. Ibid []
  5. Including Cohen’s refused prize, The Governor General’s Literary Award has been declined on five separate occasions. Source: 75 Years of Controversy: The GG’s come to UBC by Faculty of Arts, posted on the University of British Columbia web site, January 3, 2012. Accessed 05 June 2012 []
  6. Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain by Reinhold Kramer. McGill-Queen’s University Press, April 1 2008 []
  7. Richler won GGs in 1968 for both Hunting Tigers Under Glass and Cocksure.  Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia; accessed 05 June 2012 []
  8. Various Positions – A Life Of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel.  Random House of Canada, 1996 []
  9. Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain by Reinhold Kramer. McGill-Queen’s University Press, April 1 2008 []