European Union Prize for Literature

On the night of Tuesday May 23th, the ceremony for the 2017 EU Prize for Literature Awards took place at the Concert Noble in Brussels. On its ninth year, the European Prize for Literature (EUPL) is organized by the European Writer’s Council, the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) and the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), with the support of the European Commission. The EUPL award seeks to reward the talent and hard work of European writers, as well as giving them an opportunity to reach wider audiences. Winners receive 5,000 Eur, priority for translation grants, as well as a fast-lane access to Europe’s major book fairs.

“We are very interested in promoting diversity. That’s one of our goals,” said Mr. Henrique Mota, president of the FEP. “Even if two writers from different countries talk about the same subject, they will bring different perspectives.”

“I want to thank the organizers for this,” said Osvalds Zebris, winner from Latvia. “These awards are crucial for artists in small countries like mine. This is a great opportunity to make our work known in Europe and abroad.”

The event was carried out in the main hall at the Concert Noble, where a screen behind the stage had been set up to watch the ceremony live, as well as video interviews with the twelve winners. On each side of the stage, large oil paintings of the Belgian Royal family hung on the walls, one showing an image of a young King Leopold II looking stern, long-bearded and in military uniform, the other of a young Queen Consort Marie Henriette of Austria in profile. Overhead, five nineteenth century flemish chandeliers lit up the room.

The twelve winners were:

  1. Rudi Erebara (Albania)
  2. Ina Vultchanova (Bulgaria)
  3. Bianca Bellová (Czech Republic)
  4. Kallia Papadaki (Greece)
  5. Halldóra K. Thorodssen (Iceland)
  6. Osvalds Zebris (Latvia)
  7. Walid Nabhan (Malta)
  8. Aleksandar Becanovic (Montenegro)
  9. Jamal Ouariachi (The Netherlands)
  10. Darko Tusevljakovic (Serbia)
  11. Sine Ergün (Turkey)
  12. Sunjeev Sahota (UK)

“I wrote this book so my kids could have a memory,” said Rudi Erabara, the first writer to come up on stage. “That is something very important for me and for my country.”

All twelve authors but one were awarded for a novel. The exception was Sine Ergün, whose short story collection “Baştankara,” has been acclaimed in Turkey. Some of her stories are one page long.

When asked on the reasons behind her interest in such compressed stories she said, “I’m the editor of a literary magazine in Turkey. I’ve read dozens and dozens of stories and I’ve developed an eye for what is essential and what’s not. My drafts are often several pages long. But then I cut things out. Things that are not needed for the story to move you.”

One of the authors, Walid Nabhan, has chosen to write in Maltese, a language that is not the author’s mother tongue. Born in Amman in 1966 to Palestinian parents, he moved to Malta when he was twenty four.

“When I moved to Malta in 1990, Malta embraced me,” said Nabhan. “I was able to make Malta my home.”

His novel, Exodus of Storks, tells the story of a Palestinian man called Nabil who has lived all his life outside his homeland. The events in the novel take place in Jordan, where Nabil was brought up and where his father continued to live until his death; and also Malta, where the protagonist ended up later in life.

“The character in the story is haunted by ghosts of the past. The novel is an attempt to understand many of the things that have happened since 1967. It’s an attempt to understand my own life, my family’s life. It’s not easy to put this in words, but I try.”