As part of our preparation for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, we’ve asked several of the prize committee’s jurors to explain their selections.
Juror Sefi Atta was born in Lagos, Nigeria, educated in England and the United States, and currently lives in Mississipi. A fiction writer whose work has appeared in magazines like The Los Angeles Review and Zoetrope, her debut novel, Everything Good Will Come, won the inaugural Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. About her selection for the Neustadt, she writes:
I nominated Ha Jin for the prize because he is an internationally acclaimed writer and also because his unusual regard for neutrality gives readers the freedom to follow his narrative however they please. When you read his works, you never get the impression he is trying to impose any ideas on you; you just see the humanity of his characters.
Juror Joanne Leedom-Ackerson, a journalist, writing activist, and author of The Dark Path to the River and No Marble Angels, writes:
I nominated Margaret Atwood for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In making the selection, I considered the description of the prize as one of the “most distinguished literary prizes after the Nobel” and one given for a body of work. I took a tour of my book shelves to consider what writers I had read sufficiently who might qualify. There were many excellent writers, but few had such a compelling body of work and the depth and breadth of Margaret Atwood.
Margaret Atwood has published over 60 books—14 novels (a new one just released), 18+ volumes of poetry, 10 short fiction collections, 8 volumes of nonfiction, 6 children’s books and numerous anthologies. While I have not read every book, I have read widely, and the quality is consistently that of a writer whose mastery of her craft and material is at the highest professional level and whose voice is unique, always her own, and whose imagination shimmers. Most often I enjoyed the journey of her books and the worlds she created, but even in the instances when I was uncomfortable in her world, I was left considering what I had not considered before and left with a story that stayed alive and could not be ignored.
Let me quote from the nominating statement:
“…one is drawn into Atwood’s world by the voice on the page. It is like the shimmering butterfly, the faithful toad, the leaping doe flitting, hopping, darting further and further into the woods, leading you on until you look up and realize you’ve gone perhaps further than you intended. You may no longer even be sure of where you are, but the voice compels, and the story, the characters, the images, the arguments transport you into her world, and you must stay until the voice grows silent.
“Atwood’s voice is controlled, perhaps as a means of keeping the passion from igniting the page. It can be gently ironic; it is witty with the sly, but sympathetic smile of her portraits; it is luminous with intelligence. ‘She appears to have read the whole of Western literature….’ notes one critic. She is a poet when she writes prose and often a story teller when she writes poetry….
“It is not simply the number of books she has written, but the consistent quality of the literature that assures her place. She has also demonstrated a fine-tuned ability both to reflect and to anticipate her times.”
More coverage will follow—including a conversation with juror Pireeni Sundaralingam—in preparation for the voting process that will take place in Norman, Oklahoma 22 – 23 October.