There are a heck of a lot of literary prizes in Germany; Wikipedia lists about 200. The Alfred Döblin Prize is a slightly unusual one, in that the award goes to a manuscript rather than a published book. It was set up by Günter Grass in 1979 and has since gone to a number of genuinely excellent writers, including later Büchner prizewinners Reinhard Jirgl and Josef Winkler.
The judging itself takes place among a circle of invited critics and publishing types. And Günter Grass. For reasons I still cannot fully grasp, I was invited along too this year. Six writers read from their manuscripts, each followed by a relaxed discussion between the authors, the three judges and the invited audience. As someone pointed out, having your manuscript picked from the 500 submissions is an honour in itself, even if you don't get the €12,000 prize in the end.
The shortlistees were Jan Peter Bremer (Berlin), Olga Flor (Graz), Judith Schalansky (Berlin), Albrecht Selge (Berlin), Angela Steidele (Cologne) and Steven Uhly (Munich). The themes ranged from a neurotic writer's life to a modern-day Lady Macbeth, plant life, the city, cross-dressing and Kurdish ghosts. And the writing was of course of the highest standard. Some of the manuscripts are just about to be published, while others were very much works-in-progress.
I particularly enjoyed Angela Steidele's reading, which revived the epistolary novel and interwove an 18th-century soldierwoman with the eccentric Bavarian King Ludwig II - a daring undertaking that instantly called to mind Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters, while reminding us that the Germans just don't really do lesbians in literature. Olga Flor dashed my hopes for positive sex descriptions by women in her cool tale of love in an elevator, and Steven Uhly dashed through an enticingly complicated plot while mispronouncing his protagonist's Turkish name.
But it was OK in the end that Jan Peter Bremer won. His novel Der amerikanische Investor is out in August, and deals with the very topical issue of major property sales in Berlin. And the fantastically funny area of a writer's fear of turning bourgeois. Luckily, though, he never earns any money and so has to hope that his hard-working wife will take on a job in development, where he can savour a glass of wine in his African clay hut between cooling the neighbours' fevers. Maybe you had to be there - at any rate it was genuinely funny and obviously terribly well structured and everybody thoroughly enjoyed it.