Sunday, 7 July 2013

Bachmann Prize, Katja Petrowskaja, Twitter Win Bachmann Prize

This year's Ingeborg Bachmann Prize is over and leaving a gap in my life. The big news is that the people behind it invited along the TV boss who threatened to axe it. Last night he made a surprise announcement, repeated on live TV this morning: the Bachmann Prize will live another day. Apparently, he realised it was rather important. This year's event had been accompanied by a campaign to save it, by the name of #bbleibt. And ORF's Wrabetz apparently joined in the campaign, typing his own reasons to save the competition on the typewriter set up in Klagenfurt, where the four-day event is held. He certainly knows how to cause a media sensation. Wrabetz got my hopes up by referring to international viewers via livestream - so perhaps my wildest dreams will come true and I'll get to translate the texts again, as in 2010 and 2011.

The top prize went to Katja Petrowskaja for her text "Vielleicht Esther" about how some members of a Jewish family in Kiev manage to escape the approaching Nazis in 1941 and one doesn't, trusting the German-speakers rather than the Ukrainians. And about how the narrator, "perhaps Esther"'s grandchild, might not have existed but for a pot plant that may not have existed either. So a complex piece of writing reflecting on history and memory. Without meaning to detract from its qualities, it was a fairly safe bet for the prize. In past years the jury has favoured older writers, intricate language and non-native speakers, all boxes Petrowskaja ticked and of course all perfectly legitimate things to favour. I'll stick my neck out and predict two things: that the novel, published by Suhrkamp next year, will be a success and that it will get translated into English. It's the kind of writing British readers appreciate. She was also delightfully modest and self-deprecating. Congratulations!

The other prizes went to Verena Güntner, Benjamin Maack and Heinz Helle, who I thought was great. I also loved Philip Schönthaler's very clever experimental pastiche with a hidden narrator "translating" the story from a Zeit article about violinist David Garrett and Wikipedia and no doubt other sources, "Ein Lied in allen Dingen". I got very, very excited while reading it. The audience vote went to Nadine Kegele. Another writer worth mentioning was Joachim Meyerhoff, an actor who gave a thrilling reading of a great story, fairly simply written, about a young man stealing a book.

The other winner was Twitter. You'll note that the campaign to save the prize gave itself a hashtag. It was run online and offline, but the Twitter aspect meant it gained a profile outside Klagenfurt itself. And the hashtag #tddl was trending all over the shop in Germany. A couple of the participants were tweeting from the event, plus one of last year's participants and the studio presenter himself. There were "literary twitterers" in Klagenfurt and the rest of the world watching TV or livestream and chatting, bitching, ridiculing, analysing online in real time. Over the four days a sense of community developed, culminating in near-ecstasy over the announcement that we'll be able to do it all over again next year. In Berlin, Nikola Richter hosted our #BachmannTwitterParty (evidence here) in good old-fashioned analogue Kreuzberg. We had nine visitors including a random passer-by who didn't seem to speak German, English or French but smiled politely and stayed a couple of hours. It was fun because we could make rude comments but not put them online for posterity. Also, we drank Sekt at 9.30 in the morning. I had to have a lie-down afterwards. I'm not sure I managed to stick to my resolution not to write horrible things about anybody, but I tried. Apologies to all those following my new Twitter account with no interest in Austrian literary competitions.


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