Probably the most interesting thing I experienced at the Leipzig Book Fair was the rather low-key award ceremony for the Edit Essay Prize. I say low-key because it took place in a gloomy dungeon room with a distinct whiff of sulphur on the air, at the very end of the Lange Leipziger Lesenacht when everybody was rather tired and emotional, including myself. But despite one G&T too many, I found the whole thing fascinating.
Edit is a literary magazine closely linked to the creative writing programme at Leipzig University. I met one of the current editors, Jörn Dege, last autumn, when he was in the grip of essay fever. The essay, he was convinced, is a neglected literary form in Germany, whereas the Americans excel at it. So they launched an essay competition.
An incredible 622 entries later, Dege kind of had to eat his words, and did so ever so slightly during the event. It would appear that Germans are yearning to write essays - but lack publication opportunities. I'd also say that a closer look at a few recent publications might reveal essays masquerading as all sorts of things. David Wagner's Welche Farbe hat Berlin springs to mind pretty instantly, as does some of the work of Carolin Emcke and Ingo Schulze. And I'm sure there are plenty more examples lurking out there on the boundaries of journalism and under the nebulous label of "texts".
Anyway, the first prize went to Simone Schröder for "Manchmal wie ein großer schwarzer Kasten". Schröder seems to have actually edited a vehicle for the German essay, the literary magazine elephant. (Another lesser-known litmag that encourages essay-writing is Freitext, by the way - I'm starting to spot essays hiding everywhere I look now...) She read from her piece about how we negotiate all the objects in our everyday lives and it seemed very impressive, although I found it a tad wandering. But perhaps that was just my mind.
Second place went to Francis Nenik for "Vom Wunder der doppelten Biografieführung". Those (male) judges who were present said it had split the jury: they'd raved over it while the (absent) female judges didn't get it. Being a major fan of macho writing, I fell into the first category. The text is printed in the literary supplement of Der Freitag so rush out and get it now - a wonderful, depressing, beautifully structured and fascinating essay about two poets on their uppers in 20th-century London. For more from the mysterious Nenik in German and English, go to the quandary novelists. You probably ought to.
Bruno Preisendörfer took third prize for his "Zeitsprünge". I wasn't paying attention properly but it seemed to be about John Cage and time. Preisendörfer is a totally cool geezer and writes an awesome and bizarrely not yet famous blog called Fackelkopf.
All the prizewinning essays and more will be printed in the next issue of Edit. I look forward to it with interest.