Wednesday, 13 September 2017


Nine renowned writers – including Edwidge Danticat, Amitav Ghosh, Mohsin Hamid and Jamaica Kincaid – are the finalists for the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, announced by the magazine World Literature Today.

Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, a finalist.
The nominees represent the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, France, the United States and other areas and are recognized for their global contributions to literature.

The prize, a $50,000 biennial award sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and its international literature and culture magazine, may boost efforts to achieve more diversity in publishing, at a time when there are concerns the industry excludes some voices.

“We are ecstatic to have such a diverse and powerful group of writers representing the Neustadt Prize this year,” said Roberto Con Davis-Undiano, executive director of World Literature Today.

“This truly international slate of finalists – with diverse voices from the United States and as far away as Pakistan and Russia – reminds us that important literature knows no borders,” he added.

According to the magazine, the Neustadt Prize charter stipulates that the award “be given in recognition of outstanding achievement in poetry, fiction, or drama and that it be conferred solely on the basis of literary merit”.

A recent cover of World Literature Today.
Any living author writing in any language is eligible, “provided only that at least a representative portion of his or her work is available in English, the language used during the jury deliberations”, the sponsors say.

The prestigious prize (sometimes referred to as “the American Nobel”) may serve to crown a writer’s lifetime achievement or to direct attention to an important body of work that is still developing.

The award is not open to application; authors are nominated by a jury of “outstanding writers”. The jury will announce the 2018 winner on Nov. 9 during the 2017 Neustadt Festival of International Literature & Culture, hosted by World Literature Today and the University of Oklahoma.

The festival will also honour American writer Marilyn Nelson, who will receive a separate 2017 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, and it will feature jury members reading their own work. The university will hold a ceremony next year for the winner of the 2018 Neustadt Prize

In an email interview, Davis-Undiano answered questions about the prize and its significance to international literature and publishing.

Q: The nine finalists selected for the 2018 Neustadt Prize reflect the rich diversity of world-class literature. Is this one of the aims of the prize – to highlight such diversity – and, if so, why?
Davis- Undiano: Yes, the Neustadt Prize planners have always wanted to promote world literature and global understanding of diverse cultures around the world. The founders of the prize long ago realized that most places in the world are provincial – whether it is the south of France or the south of Oklahoma – and need access to a broader view of what other cultures and literatures are like. When those goals are even partially reached, the world becomes a better and richer place.

Robert Con Davis-Undiano,
executive director of World Literature Today.
Q: With the general lack of diversity in publishing being a concern in countries such as the United Kingdom, can the Neustadt Prize have an impact on publishers’ choices? If so, in what way?
D-U: Yes, it can. The Neustadt Prize is one of the gatekeepers of world lit. Recognition received from this prize routinely affects other prizes, even the Nobel. The Nobel committee has even gone on record explaining that the Neustadt Prize influences the choices that they make.

Q: Related to this, how significant is a magazine such as World Literature Today in helping to achieve change?
D-U: WLT, too, is one of the gatekeepers of world literature. The magazine often recognizes and discusses trends before anyone else can comment on them. In this way, WLT is frequently in the role of introducing great literature, often from under-appreciated regions, to the rest of the world.

Q: What are some of the most important considerations for Neustadt jurors in making their choice?
D-U: The jurors are bound by the Neustadt charter to isolate literary impact and quality as much as possible from other factors. In practice, they often choose young writers on their way up in terms of importance and recognition. The jurors can serve only once.

Q: What are the requirements to be a Neustadt juror?
D-U: The Neustadt jurors are generally writers of the same calibre as the nominees. It is just understood that a writers helping to choose the next Neustadt laureate should be someone at the same level in terms of achievements and brilliance.

One of Danticat's notable books.
Q: The award is described as “one of the very few international prizes for which poets, novelists, screenwriters, and playwrights are equally eligible”. Do you think there should be more multi-genre awards like this, and, if so, why?
D-U: We like the Neustadt Prize having this unique status. The sponsors of an award often have their own interests to serve in terms of what is being judged to give the prize.  The Neustadt Prize, like the Nobel, is simply trying to identify writers who are having an impact and will likely have more.

Q: Two Caribbean-born writers (Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid) are among the finalists. Following a number of international awards for writers from the region, how do you see “Caribbean literature” on the global literary scene?

D-U: I think that the world is gradually opening to the culture and literature of the Americas, from the Caribbean to the southern cone. There is still a tendency toward “amnesia” about the history and the cultures of the Americas, and I want to see as much cultural recovery happening to highlight the Caribbean and the full expanse of the Americas.

(The nine finalists are: Emmanuel Carrère (France), Edwidge Danticat (Haiti/US), Amitav Ghosh (India), Aracelis Girmay (US), Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua/US), Yusef Komunyakaa (US), Patricia Smith (US), and Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russia).