It is with dismay that we learned of the decision of the City of Dortmund to rescind the Nelly Sachs Award for Literature from Kamila Shamsie because of her stated commitment to the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
‘Ah, the tyranny of mzungu prizes!’ the Kenyan author and journalist Parselelo Kantai said when I rang him up to talk about literary awards for African writers. Mzungu is Kiswahili for ‘white person’ and Kantai was only half-joking. Since its inception in 2000, the annual Caine Prize for African Writing – awarded, more narrowly than the ‘African Writing’ of its title might imply, ‘to a short story by an African writer published in English’ – has been the most high profile award for contemporary anglophone African writers. But it’s administered in Britain and the £10,000 cash prize is bestowed during a gala dinner at the Bodleian Library. ‘There’s something that rankles,’ says Kantai, who has been shortlisted twice. ‘Once the conferring is done in London you become big on the African landscape.’ But the lingering hangover of colonialism may be lifting.
Colin Burrow on Bring Up the Bodies in the LRB, 7 June 2012: The word 'haunting' is much abused, but is absolutely, almost literally, right for this book... At one time or another almost every character (except plain, prosaic Jane Seymour) sees something like a spectre.
The Man Booker Prize (or as the press release for The Yips – review forthcoming in the LRB – has it, Man Boozer Prize) longlist, with a few links to the LRB archive:
'Fury at no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,' according to Australian radio. 'Pulitzer Prize board has shirked its duty,' the Telegraph says. The board couldn’t decide between the three finalists put forward by the judges (it's a scrupulous two-tier selection process): Karen Russell's Swamplandia!, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace and Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.
The submission period for the 2012 PEN American Center’s literary awards is now open and this year there are two new prizes: one for ‘an exceptional story illustrated in a picture book’ ($5000), the other the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction ($25,000), which was set up by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000; it’s only ‘new’ in the sense that PEN took over the administration of it this year. But what is it actually for? ‘Socially responsible literature,’ according to the prize’s ‘founding documents’ (note the slide from ‘engaged’ to ‘responsible’), ‘may describe categorical human transgressions in a way that compels readers to examine their own prejudices.’ In case that’s not clear:
Julian Barnes has won the 2011 David Cohen Prize for a 'lifetime's achievement in literature'. As well as £40,000, the winner gets to choose the recipient of the £12,500 Clarissa Luard Award, which Barnes has given to the Reading Agency to spend on their work in young offenders' institutions.
At a press conference earlier this year, in response to a question about the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said: ‘There are no dissidents in China.’ No one believed him at the time; but now that Liu has been given the Nobel Peace Prize, it will be even harder for the authorities to make such denials to the international media. A bigger concern for Beijing, however, is with the way the news of the prize plays out in China. Few Chinese people have heard of Liu; reports of CNN blackouts and internet blocks suggest that the government wants to keep it that way.
Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Obama has won this year's Nobel Peace Prize. The head of the Nobel committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, explained why: 'It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve.' Were to someone to declare, very publicly, that they had embarked on writing the best novel of all time, what should their Nobel ambitions be? Can I have it now, please?
Reviews in the LRB of novels on the Man Booker Prize shortlist: Colin Burrow on Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelThomas Jones on The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters Coming soon: Frank Kermode on Summertime by J.M. Coetzee James Wood on The Children's Book by A.S.