Awards Update

May 18, 2011 

Here’s the latest on 2011′s literary prizes. It’s shaping up to be a year of controversy:

Philip Roth has won the 2011 Man Booker International Prize, which is presented every two years to a living author who publishes in English or whose work is widely available in translation into English. Not everyone was happy about the decision. Man Booker International Prize judge Carmen Callil, a writer and founder of publishing house Virago, resigned in protest. She told the Guardian, “He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.” Callil was also disappointed that the prize was not awarded to a writer in translation.

Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Visit from the Good Squad, which I have raved about previously on this blog. Egan stirred up some controversy when, in an interview directly after winning the prize, she said of the Harvard student who a few years ago plagarized from other books for use in her debut novel, that she had “plagarized very derivative, banal stuff.” This was taken by some to be an insult against chick-lit authors like Megan McCafferty, whose novels were some of the works stolen by the Harvard student. Egan has since apologized and if the literary world wasn’t already past it, I’m sure the Philip Roth controversy will put the nail in that coffin. Egan did tell Ron Hogan, writer and blogger at, that she believes “there’s an interesting conversation to be had about genre and gender and literary culture.” I hope she’ll say more about that.

Adan Levin won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award for his 1,000-page novel, The Instructions. The award is given each year to a writer 35 years or younger for a novel or book of short stories. Although I still have not had a chance to read it, The Instructions was the reason I joined The Rumpus book club. Here’s a synopsis of the book from McSweeneys: “Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and 900 pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: a lover, a fighter, a scholar, and a truly spectacular talker. Expelled from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program for the most hopeless cases of Aptakisic Junior High. Separated from his scholarly followers, Gurion becomes a leader of a very different sort, with righteous aims building to a revolution of troubling intensity.”

Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver (translated by Thomas Teal) took home the Best Translated Book Award in the fiction category. According to Three Percent, a website dedicated to international literature, “Jeff Waxman of the BTBA fiction committee describes Jansson’s most recent English-language publication as ‘a slender and modern novel about the relationship of two women in a small Scandinavian fishing community: one is cold, practical, and brutally honest; the other is an older, infantile children’s book illustrator. As the story unfolds in Jansson’s simple, understated prose, Katri Kling strives to provide a home and perhaps a livelihood for her younger brother; Anna Aemelin wants only to live life with her eyes closed, insulated by her money and her art. This panel found itself engrossed as their relationship grew tense and aggressive and their fields of battle expanded from Aemelin’s household finances to Katri’s brother and her pet dog. Subtle, engaging and disquieting, The True Deceiver is a masterful study in opposition and confrontation.’”

James Hynes won The Believer book award for his novel, Next. The editors of The Believer said of the book: “Kevin is a flaneur of the mind, though less a gentleman of leisure than the possible victim of twenty-first-century trans-industry obsolescence putting his internal affairs in order before the biggest party of his life. An often witty eulogy for sex, youth, Sigourney Weaver’s Alien-era biceps, and American notions of financial and physical security, Next is a work of intense nostalgia that never fails to comment upon the present as well as—in its final pages of split-second daring, and optimism, and heartbreak—the future.”

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