Monday, 21 October 2013

Hotlist Prize to Weidle Verlag

They announced it a little while ago but seeing as I didn't go to Frankfurt, I didn't even notice. But the Hotlist Prize for the best indie book went to the Bonn-based Weidle Verlag for a translation of a short story by a Soviet art historian by the name of Vsevolod Nikolaevich Petrov. Petrov chose not to publish the story in the Soviet Union, although he made no secret of its existence. It seems to have been his only work of fiction, first published posthumously in 2006. The German translator is Daniel Jurjew, the son of writers Oleg Jurjew and Olga Martynova, who wrote an afterword and a commentary respectively. 

I am confused by the Hotlist Prize. I've always found it puzzling, to be honest. Its purpose is to highlight outstanding books produced by independent publishers, hence the top-ten format. And as a prize awarded for independent publishing, the €5000 prize goes to the publisher rather than the author or author's descendents/translator/mum and dad-combination. Which feels a tiny bit unfair to me.

I suppose in this case, the award is calling attention to one of the things German/Swiss/Austrian independent publishers do well, which is digging up obscure out-of-copyright writing and putting it out there, in excellent translations and with accompanying material. Last year's prize went to the Austrian publisher Droschl for a book by a dead Norwegian. I can't help feeling, however, that the Hotlist is not rewarding another side of independent publishing, one I personally find more interesting – discovering and promoting exciting writing talent in German. But seeing as it's the indie publishers who submit the titles for the prize (one each), it's their own fault to some extent.

I wonder whether it tells us something about how healthy the non-independent publishers are? In other words, that the larger houses are still publishing the type of daring writing that has migrated to independents in the English-speaking world. On the other hand, it could be because the indies are too embarrassed to accept a prize for themselves with the writer looking on during the ceremony but not getting a share of the cash.

Perhaps it's time for a rethink, dear Hotlisters?


stefan weidle said...

The Hotlist is an alternative to the German book prize which is given to a new novel by a German writing author each year at the Frankfurt book fair. There is a longlist of 20 and a shortlist of 5. This covers the production of novels by living German authors for a year, especially since there is another prize with the same conditions at the Leipzig book fair in Spring. Both prizes are open to independent publishers and a few have made it on the longlists at least.
The Hotlist wants to show the variety of the independent German publishers. In subjects, authors, languages etc. This is our domain, not the competition with the big publishing houses. And I have shared my prize with the translator of the book.

kjd said...

I'm very glad to hear that, Stefan.