The Zbigniew Herbert Foundation has announced the laureate of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2018. The honour has gone to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. The Irish Gaelic language poet is one of a select group of authors, thanks to whom women are ‘regaining a voice’ in modern literature.
A female hero & a small language
Edward Hirsch, chairman of this year’s jury, commented:
The jury is thrilled to announce the Irish-language poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, as the winner of The Zbigniew Herbert Award 2018. We have chosen a ground-breaking and courageous poet who is both local and international, a poet, who has helped to sustain and remake her language.
The jury recognised that Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s creativity is the fulfilment of an artistic act aimed at saving a seemingly-condemned language, a gesture of opposition to cultural unification. Zbigniew Herbert’s outlook comes to mind here in the famous Prayer of Mr Cogito: The Traveller asking one to ‘understand other people, other languages, other suffering’.
The 2018 award laureate said:
I’m absolutely delighted to get the prize because working in a minority language you get so used to being overlooked, even in your own country, that it never even dawned on me that I had a chance. I want to thank the members of the jury very much, not just on my own behalf, but also on behalf of the Irish language.
This year’s laureate was chosen by an international jury composed of poets, essayists, translators and publishers: Yurii Andrukhovych (Ukraine), Edward Hirsch (USA), Michael Krüger (Germany), Mercedes Montana (Spain) and Tomasz Różycki (Poland).
Yurii Andrukhovych on the justification of the jury’s selection:
The poems by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill make an extremely strong impression on the reader, by way of their dense intense images, courage of thinking, depth of associations, intonational purity. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill is an extraordinarily recognisable poet – first of all thanks to the very special expressiveness and formal perfection of her poetical works. Throughout her whole creative life, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill has been working with a so called ‘small language’ although she absolutely could be successfully working with English. Nevertheless she has chosen Gaelic – the authentic language of Ireland, which probably seems to nowadays be somewhere very close to the edge of disappearance. Such a desperate gesture deserves the highest honours and huge respect. We have to recognise Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill as someone who is like a fearless agent of a universal reanimation service of the Gaelic language.
Defending the right to exist of her ‘small language’, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill defends – at the same time – the right of Irish women to self-sufficient creativity, for a highly individual, sharply critical approach to the ‘masculine’ social reality of her country. And in that sense the great figure of Zbigniew Herbert, a poet of uncompromising culture and social ethics, seems to be very significant and symbolic. To whom else could be handed over an award in his name, if not to that uncompromising female hero, who Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill without any doubt is?
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill: a short biography
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill was born into a bilingual family in 1952 in Lancashire, England. When she was five years old, they moved to Ireland and settled in County Kerry. Her study of English and Irish literature took her to University College in Cork, and she subsequently married Dogan Leflef, which entailed living in both Holland and Turkey for a couple of years. The family returned to Ireland in 1980 and settled just outside Dublin, where within a year Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill published her first volume of Gaelic poetry. Her creativity quickly exceeded expectations about the influence for this language, captivating other Irish poets who promptly went about translating her works into English. She proceeded to publish subsequent bilingual books, which were then translated by eminent authors, including Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain and Medbh McGuckian, but above all by Paul Muldoon.
In her work, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill draws on Celtic folklore and mythology, managing to combine and transpose these elements with contemporary issues. Taking prime importance are themes such as the relationship between Irish and English culture – considered from a post-colonial perspective – as well as a feminist reinterpretation of cultural and social issues.
The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award
The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award is a distinction on the literary world stage primarily in the field of poetry. It has been given since 2013 in recognition of outstanding artistic and intellectual achievements, inspired by the values and ideals which Zbigniew Herbert’s work exemplifies.
Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow and founder of the foundation that bears his name, said:
Cultures fascinated Herbert, especially those that got a ‘bad deal from history’, who had been subjugated by stronger neighbours, which is why he studied the Etruscan and Languedoc cultures, of course, mindful of the fact that Poland had nearly been wiped off the face of Europe. I am convinced that he would have very much approved the choice of an author of works in a minority language, of a nation with a painful historic past, who had fought heroically to survive. I am also personally pleased that this year the award bearing his name has for the first time been awarded to a woman.
Previous laureates of the award: William Stanley Merwin, USA (2013), Charles Simic, USA (2014), Ryszard Krynicki, Poland (2015), Lars Gustafsson, Sweden (2016) and Breyten Breytenbach, South Africa (2017).
The PZU Foundation is the main strategic partner in the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Awards 2018. Supporting partners of the Zbigniew Herbert Foundation include the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the Polish Theatre in Warsaw and the National Library. This year’s media partner is Polish Radio.
The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award ceremony will be held in Warsaw on 15th May 2019.
A live broadcast of the event will be available on Culture.pl.
For more information about the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award:
Source: press materials, culture.pl; compiled by AZ, 5 Mar 2018