Criteria: The annual award, of €50,000, will be awarded to a writer or poet writing in the German language, who has emerged to have been essential in helping shape contemporary German cultural life.
Sibylle Lewitscharoff may not be a name you are familiar with, but in fact the German writer was announced in early June as the winner of the 2013 Georg Büchner Prize. The prize is one of Germany’s most prestigious literary prizes, equalling only the Goethe prize in reputation. Georg Büchner is the playwright behind Woyzeck, which though incomplete is thought to be one of the most famous German plays in history; Büchner himself, were it not for his early death, had the potential to be as significant for literature as figures such as Goethe and Schiller.
Born in Stuttgart, in the South-West of Germany, Sibylle Lwitsharoff later completed a degree in religious studies in at the Free University of Berlin. It was during her time working as an accountant in Berlin when she began writing radio features and plays. It was her second published book, in 1998, Pong that brought her to the public after it received the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize – now known as the Festival of German-Language Literature. This was then followed by novels like Montgomery (2003), Apostoloff (2009) and Blumenberg (2011), with her most recent work has been shortlisted for the German Book Prize. Furthermore Lewitsharoff is also a graphic artist, illustrator and seamstress: The Poet as a Child, a paper-theatre work, is currently exhibited at the German Literature Archive in Marbach. She is a writing fellow at the Villa Massimo in Rome, and also holds the Brüder-Grimm professorship at the University of Kassel.
In her novels Lewitsharoff reexplores and questions with inexhaustible energy of observation, narrative fantasy and linguistic inventiveness our everyday boundaries of what we consider reality. Her texts deepen and expand the precise perceptions of the German culture in areas of the satirical, the mythological and the fantastical. Fundamental philosophical and religious questions of existence unfold in a subtle dialogue, incorporating great literary traditions with refreshing wit. Whilst presenting at the Lectures on Poetics, Lewitsharoff states her goal of writing is to ‘communicate with the dead’ – and never has a goal been done so vividly and life-like in her artful and entertaining stories.
From 1923 the original Büchner prize was only given to artists, including visual artists, actors and singers, from Büchner’s home state, Hesse. However it was not until 1951 that the prize turned into a general literary prize for German language authors. Hesse still plays its part, with the city of Darmstadt being the location for the annual winner’s speech and award ceremony.
Winners of the Büchner prize, who have also won the Nobel Prize in subsequent years, include Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, Elias Canetti and Elfriede Jelinek. Conversely, although the Büchner Prize is thought as a potential indicator for future German Nobel prize winners, some winners of the Nobel have not received their Büchner counterpart – including Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Nelly Sachs and Herta Müller (yet).
Fans hoping to find her work in English translation will be disappointed – to my knowledge Apostoloff is the only novel so far currently in progress of being translated, to be published in 2013. However in as many cases as possible I have translated the blurb, to varying degrees of grammatical success!
The award ceremony will take place in Darmstadt in October. The Büchner prize is only one of the German Academy’s five annual awards, including prizes for: translation, promotion of German culture, literary criticism and scientific prose.