Friday, 8 February 2013

Chamisso Prize to Marjana Gaponenko

Doh! You go abroad once ever and they go and award a prize while you're away. The Chamisso Prize is for writers in German whose native language is not German. And this year it goes to Marjana Gaponenko. She's published two novels, most recently Wer ist Martha?
And she gets €15,000.

There are also two prizes for emerging writers worth €7000 each, which go to Matthias Nawrat (definitely one to watch in my book) and Anila Wilms.

The press release came out in mid-January, so the other judges won't have dreamed it would be an issue working with Denis 'Blackface' Scheck on this. I've stated in the past - and I'm not the only one - that the Chamisso Prize is a rather patronising institution, despite its good intentions. I've since come to the conclusion that it's not the prize itself that's the problem. After all, distributing nearly €30,000 between three writers has to be a good thing, and the programme gives them much-needed publicity, takes writers into schools as role models, etc. The problem is the way it establishes a category, cosily labelled "Chamisso literature" when it actually means "writing by foreigners" - haven't they done well for themselves? The problem is the way writers from elsewhere end up on panels together, discussing writing from elsewhere, while their writing itself may well have nothing in common. The problem is the way writers from elsewhere don't end up on panels with writers from here, discussing the future of literature or avant-garde narrative technique. The problem is - shouldn't it be irrelevant where a writer is from?

It's not, of course, partly because there is still demand for twee stereotyped representations of, say, Turkish-German lives with donkeys on the cover, which call to mind those books set in India in which chutney plays such a large role. Could we indeed speak of a "donkeyfication of German"? A subconscious desire to keep ethnic writers in their place? What the Chamisso Prize does not do, and this is probably the most important of its saving graces, is honour that kind of writing.


click clack gorilla said...

That's a good point. It really shouldn't matter where a writer is from, though I always have a special well of respect for people writing amazing books in a second or third language.

Seems these days who the author is has become really important--what with the internet able to provide so much background info instantly. And while when I love a book I like to find out about the author too, it seems that taking the book outside of all that context is very worthwhile as well.

Anyway, some rambling, but now the point: just recently discovered this blog of yours and am really really enjoying it. I have managed to live in Germany for years without finding many other lit geeks. So reading this blog makes me happy. High fives.

kjd said...

Thanks! I know I'm a sucker for wanting to know all about the writer, wondering what's autobiographical, etc. So it's probably not a dilemma we'll ever solve. It's just that I feel lumping writers from elsewhere together is counterproductive.