They’ve just announced this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize:

  • Lydia Davis

I’m thrilled at this news. Not only is Lydia Davis one of my favorite writers, she is also a short story writer and a supreme translator (in fact, the only thing I have reviewed here from her is her translation of Vivant Denon’s No Tomorrow (here); we’ve even done a podcast on it (here)). Click here for the official press release.

A deserving winner, indeed, from a very good list of finalists. I’d have been happy with almost any of them winning, truth be told, but I’m feeling particularly happy that it went to Davis. Davis is not the first short story writer that the Man Booker International Prize has chosen to honor. In 2009, the award went to another of my favorite writers, Alice Munro.

Stepping back, it’s worth pausing a moment to look at the five winners of the Man Booker International Prize

  • 2005: Ismail Kadare
  • 2007: Chinua Achebe
  • 2009: Alice Munro
  • 2011: Philip Roth
  • 2013: Lydia Davis

Four of these winners write in English (the last four, in fact). The last three have all been from North America. They happen to be three of my favorite authors, so I have no problems with them winning this award — truly. Also it would undermine the integrity of the award if judges decided it would be inappropriate to award, say, Lydia Davis because of those who’ve already won the award. They should be judging their finalists and choosing the one they think deserves the prize in that particular year. And, of course, these authors are all different from the other. Just because Lydia Davis and Alice Munro both write short stories does not mean they write in nearly the same vein. Just because Lydia Davis and Philip Roth are both from the United States does not mean there are any other similarities.

Still, this international prize has not felt particularly international, and, while I don’t think we can use that to criticize the prize or the judges, I do think it shows the difficulties inherent in putting together an award like this. Perhaps the best way we readers can use this prize is to consider Davis a worthy winner and seek out work from all of the finalists.

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