Aminatta Forna Among Seven Women Writers Nominated for the 2016 Neustadt Prize

2016-Finalists-AllThe finalists for the 24th Neustadt International Prize for Literature (also the 2016 Prize) have been announced.  Seven out of the nine finalists are women.

The Neustadt is one of my favorite international prizes.  It’s awarded every two years; a jury of international writers nominate one writer each and selects one representative work by the nominated writer etc. From my 2013 post:

“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.”

Nominees for this year’s prize

Here are the 2016 nominees, their representative books (English titles only) and the jury who nominated them:

  • Can Xue, China –Five Spice Street, translated from the by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping (nominated by Porochista Khakpour)
  • Caryl Churchill, England  – A Number (nominated by Jordan Tannahill)
  • Carolyn Forché, United States  – Selections from In the Lateness of the World and Other Poems (nominated by Valzhyna Mort)
  • Aminatta Forna, Scotland/Sierra Leone – The Memory of Love (nominated by Mukoma wa Ngugi)
  • Ann-Marie MacDonald, Canada –Fall on Your Knees (nominated by Padma Viswanathan)
  • Guadalupe Nettel, Mexico – The Body Where I was Born (nominated by Valeria Luiselli)
  • Don Paterson, Scotland – Rain (nominated by Amit Majmudar)
  • Dubravka Ugresic, Croatia/The Netherlands – The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (nominated by Alison Anderson)
  • Ghassan Zaqtan, Palestine – Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (nominated by Wang Ping)

Let’s speculate. Mia Couto, who is from Mozambique, won the 2014 Neustadt. So what are the odds that Aminatta Forna, who is part Sierra Leonean, will win this year’s prize? But Assia Djebar and Nurrudin Farah won in succession so there’s precedent. I find, when asked to recommend African novels, that invariably I list Forna’s The Memory of Love, which remains a favorite of mine.

It seems critics have a hard time describing Can Xue’s work.  I haven’t read any of her books but reading stuff on her work, I’d describe her imagination as magical realism on fleek and that’s very exciting indeed. Here is Tony Malone’s review of The Last Lover, winner of the 2015 Best Translated Book Award.

There is so much to say about the British playwright Caryl Churchill but what really needs to happen is for one to see her work on the stage. Churchill is a strong contender for this year’s Neustadt.

While I’m familiar with, and like, the poetry of Carolyn Forché, I’m ambivalent on her nomination. I’m thinking there are other American women poets that I would have nominated over Forché but the Neustadt doesn’t work like that so shut it, Kinna.

I’m weak on Canadian Literature but I’ve read Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s saga of the Piper Family. It is goood. I recently added Natural Histories, Guadalupe Nettel’s collection of short stories to my wishlist. Dubravka Ugresic is another strong contender. She’s been on my list of writers to read for ages. Ministry of Pain, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg are the two books of hers that interest me the most.

Second nomination in a row for the Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan. Arablit has rightly observed that the Neustadt is yet to be awarded to an Arabophone so this could be Zaqtan’s year.

I’m rooting for Forna, Ugresic, Xue, Zaqtan and Churchill. Good luck to all the finalists.  We will know the winner in October 2015.

More books to read while we wait!


Follow the Neustadt at @NeustadtPrize

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