Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: Fifty Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, 1970–2020
The following dossier is the first in a series of three exclusive sections on Latin American writers who have received the Neustadt Prize, coordinated by World Literature Today at the University of Oklahoma.
The texts that make up this dossier have been excerpted from the book Dispatches from the Republic of Letters, edited by Daniel Simon, editor-in-chief of WLT, and published this year by Dallas-based press Deep Vellum. In the first text (which can be read below), we provide a brief informative note on the origin, meaning, and trajectory of the Neustadt Prize and the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature. The next text corresponds to the book’s preface, written by the executive director of WLT, Robert Con Davis-Undiano. Here, Dr. Davis-Undiano gives a succinct explanation of the importance of this award, which was initiated in Norman, Oklahoma and whose spirit is decidedly literary: “To this day, the awards continue to reward and celebrate the best writers anywhere, often the ‘best’ before they are recognized as such elsewhere,” writes Dr. Davis-Undiano. Furthermore, Daniel Simon, in his article “The Neustadt Prize on the World Stage,” tells us the extraordinary story behind the award’s origins. These are exciting pages that show how, through the faith and determination of its founders, it was possible to establish one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, whose fiftieth anniversary is this year. Two more texts complete the dossier, both focused on the first Latin American writer to receive the Prize, in 1972: Gabriel García Márquez. The first, “Allegro Barbaro, or Gabriel García Márquez in Oklahoma,” was written by Ivar Ivask, the distinguished editor of WLT (formerly Books Abroad) and the prize’s founder. The second, “The Fabulating Gifts of Gabriel García Márquez,” was written by Thor Vilhjálmsson, who was one of the 1972 award jurors, recommending that the Colombian writer should receive that year’s prize.
We believe that, in a way, the history of the Neustadt Prize also belongs to the history of Latin American literature. Writers who receive this distinction will always maintain their standing and continue to be widely read. We are happy that, from a place so distant from the major cultural metropoles as Norman, Oklahoma, a place that exists not only in Kafka's America, renowned authors have been recognized and awarded a literary prize that has attained such consolidated and well-deserved international standing. As we know, few literary awards in the world have kept their prestige intact. The Neustadt Prize is undoubtedly one of them, hence its value and significance.
The Neustadt Prizes and World Literature Today
Norman, Oklahoma, sounded to many a European ear as Persepolis or Samarkand once may have done to Marlowe or to Keats: the name of a remote, half fairy-like city from which the broadest-minded review in the world of letters radiated information, disseminated ideas, and appraised trends of taste.
Henri Peyre, Books Abroad, Autumn 1976
The Neustadt International Prize for Literature
The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is sponsored by World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature and culture, currently in its ninety-fourth year of continuous publication. The prize, conferred every two years, consists of $50,000, a replica of an eagle’s feather cast in silver, and an award certificate. An international jury of writers convenes on the University of Oklahoma campus every other year to decide the winner of each prize.
The charter of the award stipulates that the Neustadt Prize be given in recognition of important achievement in poetry, fiction, or drama and that it be conferred solely on the basis of the literary value of the writer’s work. The prize may serve to crown a lifetime’s accomplishment or to direct attention to an important body of work that is still developing.
Established in 1969 as the Books Abroad International Prize for Literature, then renamed the Books Abroad / Neustadt Prize in 1972 before assuming its present name in 1976, the Neustadt Prize is the first international literary award of its scope to originate in the United States and is one of the very few international prizes for which poets, novelists, and playwrights are equally eligible. Funding for the prize has been ensured in perpetuity by a generous endowment from the Neustadt family of Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and Watertown, Massachusetts.
The NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature
Since 2003, World Literature Today has also sponsored the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, awarded every other year to a living writer or author-illustrator with significant achievement in children’s or young-adult literature. Made possible through the generosity of Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz, and Kathy Neustadt, the NSK Prize celebrates literature that contributes to the quality of children’s lives. Candidates for the award are nominated by a jury of writers, illustrators, and scholars, and the jury also selects the winner of each biennial prize. Laureates receive a check for $35,000, a silver medallion, and a certificate at a public ceremony at the University of Oklahoma in odd-numbered years.