Border-Crossing & Award-Winning: Literature from Poland in 2016
In 2016, Polish writers have not only found acclaim at home but also abroad, with awards, prizes and scholarships to prove their international renown. These bilateral contacts have resulted in many initiatives, including Polish awards for foreign-language authors and their translators.
Reading authors from countries which are close-by but which may also seem quite remote or even exotic allows us to better understand the world and those of different cultural backgrounds. It is hard to expect an appropriate approach to traditions and history and an accurate interpretation of these from others if perceptions of foreigners are based on stereotypes or even resentment. With increasingly sophisticated electronic gadgets, communities of readers don’t have any limits, so it’s not enough to filter out patchy information.
Nothing beats a book
Of course, a good book will always find its reader, and a bibliophile equipped with a reliable instinct will always find interesting works singled out from hundreds and thousands of others.
Stanisław Lem, owner of an impressive personal collection of books, wasn’t a fan of official actions to popularise reading. He avoided all sorts of festivals or book fairs and was terrified by their abundance – he didn’t want to go to places where books lose their proper character and become objects of transaction. He visited a book fair just once, in Frankfurt, and its self-aggrandisement was bluntly commented on by Lem: ‘It’s a huge lavatory clogged with paper’.
To prevent this from happening, we have authors able to spark readers’ imaginations. Only writers who have something important to communicate when they write can become part of the history of literature. Lem was – and still is, through his books – one of them.
One of the first Polish authors that comes to mind when one thinks about international renown is Adam Zagajewski, one of the few writers using Polish who can undoubtedly said to be swarmed with awards. He’s also been listed as a hypothetical candidate for the Nobel prize for quite some time now.
He had a great year in 2015, but in 2016 alone, Zagajewski received:
- the Jean-Amery-Preis for achievements in European essay writing. The jury, led by Robert Menasse, decided to grant the award to Zagajewski, ‘a multi-lingual Pole and cosmopolitan’;
- the German Leopold Lucas Prize from the University of Tübingen. The poet was awarded for ‘outstanding achievements in the fields of theology, intellectual history, historical research, and philosophy’ (€50,000);
- the Canadian Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Award for lifetime achievement (10,000 Canadian dollars);
- the Italian Sigillo di Ateneo, an award granted by the University of Urbino;
- the Hungarian Janus Pannonius Grand Prize for Poetry granted by the Hungarian PEN Club.
Andrzej Stasiuk is another example of an exported Polish writer. He became the laureate of the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, a prize granted to European writers who have gained international renown, with a purse of €25,000.
Justyna Kopińska, a journalist for Gazeta Wyborcza and Duży Format and author of Polska Odwraca Oczy [editor’s translation: Poland Turns Away Her Eyes] won the prestigious European Press Prize, commonly called the ‘European Pulitzer’. It was the first time that this prize was given to a Polish writer. Kopińska’s prize-winning reportage, The Fear – Sick Ward, was originally published in Duży Format in July 2015.
Jakub Koźbiał became the winner of the Concorso Internazionale di Poesia e Teatro Castello di Duino, beating over 12,000 works from over 90 countries. He received the Medaglia della Presidenza della Repubblica for his poem Dead Waters. The Castello Di Duino competition, which takes place under the patronage of UNESCO, is for authors under 30. Jakub Koźbiał is the first Pole in the history of this prestigious competition to win the Grand Prix.
Ein Deutsches Tagebuch, a book by Gdańsk-based writer Stefan Chwin, is comprised of chosen texts from his Kartki z Dziennika and Dziennik dla Dorosłych. Die Zeit included the book on its list of the 10 best books of the previous year. Ein Deutsches Tagebuch was translated into German by Marta Kijowska.
Szczepan Twardoch and his German translator Olaf Kühl received the Brücke Berlin Literatur und Übersetzerpreis award for the novel Drach, which was released by Rowohlt Berlin publishing house in 2016.
Bill Johnston won the Found in Translation Award for 2015. He was granted the prize for his translation of Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki, which was published by Zephyr Press. Jonhston is especially well-known for his translations of Wiesław Myśliwski’s prose.
Matthias Nawrat received the Alfred Döblin Prize, granted every two years to young writers by the Berlin Academy of Arts and the Berlin Literary Colloquium. He was awarded for The Many Deaths of Grandfather Jurek and his earlier novel, Unternehmen. Nawrat received a medal and €3,000. Nawrat was born in 1979 and emigrated to Germany as a child. He is yet to gain particular fame in Poland although a couple of his books of tragicomic stories have been published.
Translator Renate Schmidgall and writer Marek Zagańczyk received the Albrecht Lempp scholarship for 2016, a scholarship dedicated to writers from Poland and Germany, German translators of Polish literature, and Polish translators of German literature. Its objective is to award those who show mastery in the art of literary translation and writing, aiming to live up to literary and translation standards of Albrecht Lepp, and to commemorate the patron’s impact on the Polish-German literary exchange.
Andrzej Sapkowski received a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement for his eminent achievements in the genre. In particular, his series The Witcher has gained worldwide acclaim through its various incarnations, including a hit video game series. The award is traditionally given during the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
Polish awards for foreign authors
Lars Gustafsson, the Swedish writer and philosopher, became the laureate of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award. The prize was granted for the fourth time in 2016.
Martin Pollack from Germany and Osman Fırat Baş from Turkey became laureates of the second edition of the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for translation. Each year, two winners are chosen: one for lifetime achievement, the other for a translation into a new language.
Romanian writer Varujan Vosganian received the Angelus Central European Literature Award. He was awarded for the novel Cartea Şoaptelor (which hasn't been translated into English yet), translated into Polish by Joanna Kornaś-Warwas.
Originally written in Polish in December 2016, translated by NS, January 2017.