The Neustadt Prize: A fabulous international reading list

2014-Nominees

The winner of 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature will be announced today, November 1.

(A festival celebrating Noami Shihab Nye, winner of 2013 NSK Prize for Children’s literature is currently ongoing at the University of Oklahoma. )

I like this prize for its quirkiness, and I mean that it a good way.

The Neustadt International Prize for Literature, sometimes called the ‘American Nobel’ (don’t ask), is awarded every two years.   The  Executive Director of World Literature Today, in consultation with leadership of the University of Oklahoma, selects members of a jury made up of international writers. Each juror nominates one writer (it matters not if writer is a poet, a novelist or a playwright) and selects one representative work by the nominated writer.  A list of nominees and their books is then announced.

The transparency alone makes the Neustadt un-Nobel-like and that’s a good thing.

For readers, the nominating process generates two lists of authors;  one of jurors and another of nominees.  This is a bonus for readers like me who’re always looking to add new writers to our reading list.

The list of past Neustadt Prize Laureates is utter goodness with names such as Rohinton Mistry, Patricia Grace, Alvaro Mutis, David Malouf, Nuruddin Farah, Assia Djebar, Duo Duo, Elizabeth Bishop and more.

I can only imagine the emotional returns from completing a reading challenge of works by Neustadt laureates, nominees and jurists. Hint. Is anyone there?

Nominees for this year’s prize

One woman writer out of  a shortlist of nine is the only negative. The ratio has been a tad better for some previous years’ nominations.  Jurists should feel free to contact this reader if they can’t come up with a single women writer to nominate.  My services are free but payment can be made in books.

Here are the 2014 nominees and their representative books (English titles only):

César Aira  (Argentina) – How I Became a Nun

Mia Couto (Mozambique) – Sleepwalking Land

Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam) – No Man’s Land

Edward P. Jones (US) – All Aunt Hagar’s Children

Ilya Kaminsky Ukraine/US) – Dancing in Odessa

Chang-rae Lee (US) – The Surrendered

Edouard Maunick (Mauritius) – Mandela, Dead and Alive

Haruki Murakami (Japan) – The Elephant Vanishes

Ghassan Zaqtan (Palestine) – Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me

Based only on those I’ve read: we have a competition here.

First, Mia Couto is trending big this year.  He won the most  prestigious literary prize for works written in Portuguese, the Camões Prize, in June this year. His novel, Sleepwalking Land, was listed among the 12 best works of African Literature of the 20th Century.  Mia Couto has been writing for over 30 years and has published over 26 books.

Okay, you’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of  Couto.  Afterall, he’s a Lusophone African Writer. And these days, there are forces  feverishly working to equate African Writing to only Anglophone African Writing.

But we’ve going to do better, aren’t we? Good.

Toni Morrison aside, I once crowned Edward P. Jones “my ‘it’ American writer of the moment”.  I think that title still stands.  Now I don’t know why the juror selected All Aunt’s Hagar Children as Jones’ representative work.  Everyone knows that The Known World is Jones’ best book.  If you don’t know,  then you have a reading gap that needs remedying. Immediately.

Nothing needs to be said about Haruki Murakami, the current master of Japanese Literature.  I’ve already said too much!

Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker, which chronicles the life of Korean-American immigrant Henry Park, is sublime. Lee’s characters break my heart.  Writing this now, I’m reminded of David Malouf’s characters. I see a blog post connecting these two writers. Another day, maybe.

Look at that: Edouard Maunick, an African writer whom I’ve never heard of. A Neustadt effect.

I know about Kaminsky, Aira and Huong  but have not read them.  Gaps and holes everywhere, It’s like cheese.

Zaqtan is the first Palestinian author to be nominated. I hadn’t heard of him either or so I thought.  But a quick search at Arabic Literature in Translation says otherwise. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize in June of this year.

While I sincerely wish all nominated writers the best of luck, I’m rooting for Mia Couto and Edward P. Jones.  Though I won’t mind if Chang-rae Lee, or Haruki Murakami or Duong Thu Huong or…

Let’s just add all of them to our reading list.

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Follow the Neustadt at @NeustadtPrize and the festival on #Neustadt2013

(For more on The Neustadt Prize, visit the Prizes’ website.)

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5 comments

  1. What’s also strange to me is that they could nominate Jone’s “All Aunt Haar’s Children” without “Lost in the City”. What makes his short stories so strong is that the stories in both books are connected to one another (as apart I and part II). And anyway, I also agree with you that “The Known World” is by and far his masterpiece.

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  2. Great list! Edward P Jones and Haruki Murakami are the authors I have read enough of to judge their work. based on these two alone, this is a tough competition! I just ordered Mia Couto (Mozambique) “Sleepwalking Land” as Lusophone literature is DEFINITELY one of my afro-lit reading gaps.

    Thanks!

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