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American author Lydia Davis has won the Man Booker International Prize. The award, presented in London, comes with a sizable $90,000 monetary prize.
The award is awarded biannually to authors who write in English or have translations in English readily available. This marks the fourth time an English-language author has won the international award. Previous winners include Philip Roth, Alice Munro, and Chinua Achebe.
Lydia Davis is best known for her short stories, which can range from nine pages long to a couple sentences. “Companions,” for example, reads in its entirety:
“We are sitting together, my digestion and I. I am reading a book and it is working away at the lunch I ate a little while ago.”
To date, she has written only one novel, The End of the Story, published in 2004.
Sir Christopher Ricks, the chair of the judging panel, told audience members, “Lydia Davis’ writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorize them?” He continued, “Should we simply concur with the official title and dub them stories? Or perhaps miniatures? Anecdotes? Essays? Jokes? Parables? Fables? Texts? Aphorisms, or even apophthegms? Prayers, or perhaps wisdom literature? Or might we settle for observations?”
He went on to say, “there is vigilance to her stories, and great imaginative attention. Vigilance as how to realize things down to the very word or syllable; vigilance as to everybody’s impure motives and illusions of feeling.”
Her two most recent works of fiction are a chapbook entitled Cows, published in 2011, and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, a mammoth tome published in 2009. In addition to fiction, Davis has also translated French literature, including classics like Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, among others.
Among the other nominees, only Marilynne Robinson has made the shortlist before. Other authors in the running included Yan Lianke, Peter Stamm, Vladimir Sorokin, and Marie NDiaye.
In 2011, the Man Booker international Prize was controversially given to Philip Roth, resulting in one of the judges resigning. According to feminist Carmen Callil, the judge in question, “[Roth] goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.
“I don’t rate him as a writer at all,” Callil continued. “I made it clear that I wouldn’t have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn’t admire—all the others were fine.”
So far Davis seems safe from such accusations. Her next book of short stories, Can’t and Won’t is due out in the United States in 2014.
Image credit: Seattle Arts and Lectures via Flickr