European Union Prize for Literature

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7 January 2019

Vienna celebrates European Literature

"We must take over the important task of remembering": The writer Daniel Kehlmann began the ceremony held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the European Prize for Literature with this heartfelt appeal. A report from Vienna.

By Kristina Kramer

The European Prize for Literature (EUPL) was awarded on Tuesday, 6. November in Vienna, in the presence of Austrian Federal Minister Gernot Blümel and EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics. At the invitation of the Austrian Federal Chancellery and the Austrian Book Trade Association, around 300 guests gathered in Belvedere Palace to celebrate European literature. The special ceremony was held within the framework of the cultural programme of Austria’s current EU Council Presidency.

Awards like the European Prize for Literature support writers in their work, encourage translations into other European languages, and help to overcome not only language barriers but also cultural barriers. "In this day and age it's seemingly very easy to misunderstand people. Yet we should do everything we can to strengthen multilingualism and understanding for others," said Tibor Navracsics in conclusion to his opening statement, emphasising how important it is, for the future of the European idea, to support literature and translation.

The role of eyewitnesses: Daniel Kehlmann and his encounter with Imre Kertész

Daniel Kehlmann, who gave the ceremonial address, called upon all writers in Europe to take on the responsibility of those colleagues who are the last eyewitnesses to the horrors of the previous century. "We must take over the important task of remembering," declared Kehlmann, going on to say that this is especially urgent at a time when unsettling political currents in the European member states are becoming ever stronger.

Kehlmann embedded his urgent appeal within the very personal memory of his last encounter with the Hungarian writer Imre Kertész, the Nobel Prize in Literature laureate and survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. While in the presence of Kertész, who was clearly marked by dementia but in a certain sense still very alert, his thoughts leaping back and forth through time, Kehlmann became aware of what a deep and painful hole the departure of the last eyewitnesses will leave behind. It will make our societies more vulnerable to surrendering interpretational sovereignty over the past to potentially irresponsible government parties, as evidenced recently in Hungary and Austria, warned Kehlmann.

European short story competition with 36 EUPL prizewinners

In this anniversary year, the bestowal of the EUPL was preceded by a European short story competition under the motto "A European Story: EUPL Winners Write Europe", to which 36 previous EUPL prizewinners from 26 countries had submitted entries. Four of them were awarded with their prizes in Vienna:

The jury prize went to Ioana Pârvulescu from Romania for "A Voice". She dedicated the prize to the first-person narrator of her short story, the Romanian journalist Monica Lovinescu, who died in 2008.

The jury consisted of journalists, booksellers and writers: Maria-João Costa (Portugal), Nina George (Germany), Juancho Pons (Spain), Cathy Rentzenbrink (Great Britain), Liana Sakelliou (Greece) and Marnix Verplancke (Belgium).

"For me personally, this jury work quintessentially represents what defines Europe in the most positive sense: Art, culture, cuisine, friendship, intellectuality, truthfulness, curiosity, a willingness to debate, vigilance and the will not to approach the future with fear," said Nina George.

The two Luxembourg authors Jean Back and Gast Groeber shared the European Parliament Prize, due to a voting tie, for the short stories "European Clouds" and "Current weather warning: predominately heavy fog".

Readers from all over Europe chose the Serbian writer Jelena Lengold to receive the Public Prize for the short story "Jasmine and death".

The special prize, awarded by the jury on the occasion of 2018 being the European Year of Cultural Heritage, went to the Macedonian writer Lidija Dimkovska for "When I left Karl Liebknecht".

Reading in the dark – a new experience

Thanks to the support of the LIA foundation (Libri Italiani Accessibili), the guests in Belvedere Palace on Tuesday evening were able to experience "reading in the dark". This is a format developed in Italy, whereby visually-impaired individuals read texts to the audience in almost complete darkness, employing their special reading techniques and calling attention to themes such as accessibility and inclusion.

This week marks the end of a Tour d’Europe which the EUPL has taken to commemorate its anniversary year, from Riga to Lisbon, from Bucharest via Frankfurt to Brussels, culminating in this magnificent final act in Vienna. The tour has illustrated how well established the prize has become in the European member states over recent years. The EUPL was created by the European Commission within the framework of the "Creative Europe" programme, and has been organised from the start by the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) and the European Writers Council (EWC).

Readers are invited to continue the literary journey through Europe with the anthology "European Stories". The texts created for the short story competition can be downloaded here.

Photograph © Fotoservice BKA, Andy Wenzel

© Fotoservice BKA, Andy Wenzel