Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Literaturhaus Award to Nicolas Mahler

This came as a surprise to me. The Preis der Literaturhäuser is awarded by the - you guessed it - Literaturhäuser in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and has tended to go to fairly established novelists, a sort of mid-career boost tied up with a reading tour. A Literaturhaus, in case you can't work it out, is a centre for literature with an emphasis on events. I stopped going to the one in Berlin (which has a lot of competition, I must admit) after another member of the audience thought my friend was a waiter and asked him to get her a glass of wine. I'm sure the institution isn't entirely in control of who attends its events, but let's just say the more exciting literary nights out in Berlin are usually had elsewhere.

This year the prize goes to Nicolas Mahler. This came as a surprise to me because he isn't a novelist at all, although mid-career probably applies. He writes and draws comics, or whatever the correct term is. Some of them are adaptations of Great Works of German Literature; I have his take on Thomas Bernhard's Alte Meister, and to be honest I have no idea why it hasn't been published in English too, because it's funny in its own way on top of the original funny. He's also done Lewis Carroll, Robert Musil and Frank Wedekind. I think he writes poems as well, and lives in Vienna.

The jury said:
The programme directors of the Literaturhäuser linked in the network are honouring Nicolas Mahler as an author who takes an innovative approach to literature and gains an audience in very unique and artistic forms.
It looks a weeny bit like a bit of a publicity stunt, to my ignorant outsider's eyes, but it kind of makes me happy. You can get various of Mahler's books in French and English, published by Top Shelf, Fantagraphics and Soaring Penguin Press. And he's very well respected in the German-speaking world too.

I'm too tight for time to write about visual artists and German writers, so let me just park two thoughts here to come back to later: Christoph Niemann/Erich Kästner and Billy Childish/Hans Fallada. I don't know how much of it is commissioned and how much inspired, or indeed whether that matters. But Mahler's award is a little bit like a canonization.