Ian McEwan wins 2011 Jerusalem Prize

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in the film version of Atonement

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in the film version of Atonement

British writer Ian McEwan has been described as “one of the most important writers of our time” by the judging panel of this year’s Jerusalem Prize.

The author of the bestselling novels Atonement and On Chesil Beach was named as the recipient of the prize, Israel’s most significant literary honour for foreign writers.

Mr McEwan was chosen for the £6,200 prize because of “his love of people and concern for their right to self-realisation, and in recognition of his artistic achievements.”

The judges praised the writer for “the compelling manner in which he describes [his characters’] struggle…for their right to give personal expression to their ideas, and to live according to those ideas in an environment of political and social turmoil.”

The prize, awarded every two years since 1963, has previously been handed to playwright Arthur Miller in 2003 and feminist thinker Simone de Beauvoir in1975.

Only four other recipients have been of British background – Bertrand Russell, Isaiah Berlin, V S Naipul and Graham Greene.

It is intended to celebrate the work of writers who promote the idea of "freedom of the individual in society".

Mr McEwan will collect his award at a ceremony in Israel on February 20.

Last updated: 5:28pm, January 24 2011