European Union Prize for Literature

Creative EuropeEuropean and International Booksellers FederationEuropean Writers' CouncilFederation of European Publishers


20 March 2015

The European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL) stimulates a lively debate at the Paris Book Fair 2015 (Salon du Livre)- 20 mars 2015

The EUPL was created in 2009 to promote diversity in European literary works and to encourage their free circulation. But how do we go about achieving these objectives? That was precisely the question on which a panel of players from the literary world debated on March 20th at the Paris Book Fair.  A panel gathered by Creative Europe, the EU programme dedicated to cultural and creative activities and that funds the EUPL.  

Not an easy task to circulate literary works around Europe when the EU comprises more than 23 different official languages. Moreover, can we actually speak about a European literature? There is no European language. So, in a way, there is no European literature according to Piotr Paziński (2012 award-winner for Pensjonat). “That being said, however, we all share the same geographical space, the Polish author added. 

The Macedonian author Goce Smilevski (2010 award-winner for Sigmund Freud’s Sister) evoked a “European spirit”, in reference to the Austrian philosopher Edmund Husserl, who spoke about a crisis of the European spirit last century. Another element in favour of the existence of the Old Continent’s literature lies in the common cultural training of authors.  “ we have all inherited a Greco-Latin culture“ Laurence Plazenet (2012 award-winner for Love Alone) reminds us. “We also have culture of reading and a culture of easy access to books” thanks to a dense network of bookshops and city libraries, the French author added.

For Marie-Pierre Gracedieu, an editor (Gallimard), European literature is also characterized by “the importance given to the singularity of voices”. Whereas, in the US, literary works “seem to relate more to storytelling rather than to actual creation”, Laurence Plazenet explained.

Such “cultural diversity is Europe’s treasure”, Michel Magnier, Director of Culture and Creativity at the DG EAC (Education and Culture) of the European Commission, underlined. “The EU supports this treasure through specific programmes and awards in the area of literature but also in all other artistic areas” Pascal Brunet, director of Creative Europe French Bureau, explained.

“We should preserve, and even defend, this diversity”, Michel Magnier added, particularly as culture is a major economic sector. It “represents 4.5% of the total wealth produced in Europe each year and employs more than 8 million people, more than the automotive sector!” the representative from the DG EAC indicated. According to him, “culture is increasingly becoming a lever for growth and employment”.

All the more reason to circulate literary works around Europe. However, these works have to be translated. A step even harder to cross over for works coming from “small” European countries. “I wish French publishers would stop being afraid of smaller countries, they are also part of Europe and they also help Europe to grow”, Diana Jamborova Lemay, translator of Café Hyena, written by Jana Beňová, pointed out. As a 2012 award-winner, this translated book shows that it is possible to make the works of a “small” county like Slovakia better known. “This is precisely the goal of the EUPL” in Diana Jamborova Lemay’s view.

The EUPL can bring about a “big change”, Goce Smilevski confirmed. After having been awarded this prize for Sigmund Freud’s Sister, the book was published in more than 20 different languages (even in Ethiopian!). “This award is very valuable it brings the author tremendous exposure, in Europe, but also elsewhere in the world”, the Macedonian author concluded. Furthermore, according to Laurence Plazenet, “it offers a new life to literary works that are often forgotten two or three years after publication”.

What is the particularity of the EUPL? It is the only award that is truly multinational and multilingual. Literary works are compared in their original languages since they’re written by emerging authors whose works have not been translated yet. 13 European authors receive an award each year by a jury composed of the representatives of authors, editors and booksellers.