The Neustadt Prize on the World Stage
UNGARETTI VINCITORE BOOKS ABROAD PRIZE PREGOTI COMUNICARE ANSA
Telegram from Piero Bigongiari to Romano Bilenchi
February 9, 1970, 11:00 a.m.
In February 1970, with the transmission of a telegram from Norman, Oklahoma, to a correspondent of La Nazione newspaper in Florence, Italy (“Ungaretti winner Books Abroad Prize please inform National Associated Press Agency”), news about the winner of a fledgling literary prize made its way into the world. Over the next fifty years, that fledgling’s uncertain wings would come to be represented by a magnificent silver eagle feather symbolic of both the flights of literary imagination as well as the writer’s traditional quill.
Nothing guaranteed that the initial fledgling would have more durable wings than Icarus, however. The Neustadt International Prize for Literature, which in time came to be known as “the American Nobel,” started out as a modest initiative that, in several respects, aimed to remedy what many perceived to be the Nobel Prize in Literature’s perennial flaws, a critique still often heard today when the Swedish Academy makes its annual announcement. Formally unveiled as the “Books Abroad International Prize for Literature” by Ivar Ivask at the thirty sixth congress of PEN International in Menton, France, in September 1969, the spark for this new international prize preceded Ivask’s tenure as the longest-serving editor (1967–91) of Books Abroad and its successor, World Literature Today. A lively discussion surrounding the merits (and demerits) of the Nobel Prize had taken place five years earlier during the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in New York City in December 1964. At the behest of Robert Vlach, Books Abroad’s editor at the time, Herbert Howarth—a British-born translator of Arabic and professor of English from the University of Pennsylvania—convened a panel of scholars to discuss the Nobel’s track record at the MLA convention. Those talks formed the core of the subsequent “Nobel Prize Symposium” featured in the Winter 1967 issue of Books Abroad that included Howarth’s introductory essay, “A Petition to the Swedish Academy,” which in turn sowed the seeds of Ivask’s 1969 charter. More on that connection in a moment.
Although Ivask didn’t realize it when he took over as editor in 1967, Books Abroad had almost foundered on the rocks of financial hardship in the mid-1960s. In that same winter of 1964–65 when Vlach and Howarth convened their MLA panel in New York, the very existence of the journal itself was hanging in the balance. During the fall of 1964, Pete Kyle McCarter, the University of Oklahoma’s vice president for academic affairs (who would eventually become provost and interim president in 1970–71), apparently called on Vlach to make a case for Books Abroad’s continued existence—namely, whether the university could justify funding the journal even as protests over civil rights injustices and the escalating U.S. war in Vietnam increasingly occupied the country’s (and the administration’s) focus.1 Vlach responded in an impassioned three-page letter about the indispensability of institutional support, the journal’s efforts to expand circulation, the perennial problem of inadequate staffing, and the desirability of paying foreign contributors (two cents a word for articles, three cents a word for book reviews). Vlach challenged McCarter that unless the university could come up with the funding to adequately support the journal, the administration should let it migrate to an institution that would. At the end of the letter, Vlach wrote: “Dr. House’s idea is worth a better fate than suicide.”2 Thankfully, the administration ultimately decided that the journal did deserve a better fate.
Dr. House was Roy Temple House, who had served as Books Abroad’s founding editor from 1927 to 1949. By the mid-1940s, the journal that House had built during his two-decade tenure achieved such renown that the Nebraska-born scholar was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948. House, who also chaired OU’s Department of Modern Languages from 1918 to 1942, somehow kept the journal afloat financially during the lean years of the Great Depression and World War II. His successors as editor, three European émigrés—Ernst Erich Noth (1949–58), Wolfgang Bernard Fleischmann (1959–61), and Robert Vlach (1961–66)—each put his personal stamp on the journal, gradually expanding Books Abroad’s coverage from an initial focus on the literatures of western Europe (for the most part, those literatures taught by House and his colleagues in the department).
When the Czech-born Vlach took over the helm as editor in 1961, he extended the journal’s coverage to include “Books of Asia and Africa,” in keeping with the catholicity of his interests and his wide-ranging talents as a poet, translator, journalist, and literary critic. In anticipation of Books Abroad’s fortieth-anniversary year (1966–67), Vlach urged McCarter to help underwrite a speaker series that would have brought “nine Nobel Prize winners or other world famous foreign writers” to the university, and President George Lynn Cross endorsed a $25,000 application to the Ford Foundation to support the series.3 Like the editors who preceded him, Vlach continually tried to impress upon the administration and his faculty colleagues the value of a journal like Books Abroad in bringing prestige to the university, even when the publication could barely make ends meet financially, like so many of the so-called little magazines of the modernist and postwar era. Bringing Nobel laureates to campus would have been an impressive coup for the young editor.
Unfortunately, the Ford Foundation turned down the grant request, then Vlach died suddenly in January 1966, at the age of forty-nine, so his dream never came to fruition.4 Associate Editor Bernice Duncan, who had worked with every editor from House to Vlach, took over as acting editor in the wake of her predecessor’s death. Soon enough, another European émigré would be hired as the journal’s sixth editor: the polyglot Estonian-Latvian poet and frequent Books Abroad contributor Ivar Ivask, whom Duncan helped recruit for the position from his professorship at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. When Ivask arrived on campus in fall 1967, the issue featuring the Nobel Prize symposium—including Vlach’s posthumous contribution on Slavic writers—had recently been published. Howarth’s “Petition to the Swedish Academy,” the first of nineteen essays in the issue, was frequently damning in its critique. “I would like to see the Swedish Academy less often fix the crown, and sometimes the death-mask, on fulfilled grandeur,” wrote Howarth, “more often go ranging for the discovery and reinforcement of genius which is still on the advance.”5
Howarth—who worked for the British government in Tel Aviv during World War II but resigned in protest over its policies in Mandate Palestine—went on to propose five changes to the academy’s procedures, including, notably, a recommendation to “exert itself to discover writers outside the domains of the Big Powers and the current languages of diplomacy.”
Moreover, “Only with hesitation and restraint,” he wrote, “should the Academy endorse a writer already widely recognized and rewarded.” Ultimately, the literary world would be better served if the Nobel contributed to “the enlargement of the periphery of international vision.”6 While no doubt such criticisms stung the members of the academy, it nevertheless extended an invitation to four of the issue’s contributors—Howarth, Manuel Durán, Albert H. Carter Jr., and Robert E. Spiller—to take part in a symposium in Stockholm in fall 1967 and included their talks in the subsequent proceedings volume, Problems of International Literary Understanding (1968). Having grown up in the Soviet-controlled Baltics during the interwar years and experienced the Cold War as an exile in the West, Ivask knew that living on “the periphery of international vision” had real-world consequences. He took careful note of Howarth’s critiques when formulating the original charter for the Books Abroad Prize, and he credited Howarth in the preamble to the 1969 announcement. Ivask signaled his intention that the new prize would rival the Nobel (“To date, there is no competition to the criteria set up by the Swedish Academy, with its attendant perquisites of professional status and monetary compensation”), and he was also careful to avoid the Stockholm model of a permanent jury, choosing instead to empanel a new group of writers every other year. Ivask envisioned a prize “representative of American concern for genuine achievement in world literature”—note the emphasis on “genuine achievement,” not Old World perquisites. To the PEN delegates assembled in France, Ivask concluded with a hopeful question: “Is it not faith in the essential creative function of literature that has brought us together from all corners of the globe?”
Almost inevitably, despite such a lofty international vision, not every pitfall could be avoided. Of the twelve jurors named to the first jury in 1970—Piero Bigongiari (Italy), Heinrich Böll (Germany), J. P. Clark (Nigeria), Frank Kermode (Great Britain), Jan Kott (USA), Juan Marichal (USA), Gaëtan Picon (France), A. K. Ramanujan (India, USA), Allen Tate (USA), Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru), and Andrei Voznesenski (USSR), plus Ivask—nearly half were Europeans, with the entirety of Africa, Asia, and Latin America represented by merely one writer each. And only six of the twelve took part in person when the panel convened at the University of Oklahoma in February 1970. The complicated logistics of prize-giving vexed Ivask so much that he would modify the original charter to account for some of the eventualities that might disrupt his lofty plans for an award that would compete with the Nobel.7
Too, Ivask’s announcement of the first prize amount—$10,000—in September 1969 was something of a wish and a prayer. Earlier that summer, Vice President McCarter wrote to Ivask to inform him that “there now seems little or no prospect that the money for the projected Books Abroad prize can be raised this year. I am very sorry to send you this news, for I can understand what embarrassment it will cause you in notifying the distinguished people who, because of your own prodigious efforts, have agreed to serve on the Board [i.e., jury], and I can understand your own great personal disappointment, which I share. [Vice President Thurman] White tells me, however, that the list of prospective donors has now been exhausted, and no likelihood any longer exists of raising the money within the next two months.”8 Despite McCarter’s dire prediction, Ivask was able to secure contingency funding from the office of then-President J. Herbert Hollomon Jr., thereby averting disaster.9
Ivask could finally breathe a sigh of relief when the jury arrived on the OU campus in February 1970 and emerged with a winner despite an initial deadlocked vote.10 Ivask broke the tie, elevating Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti over the leftist Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. After hastily arranging travel plans for the eighty-twoyear-old Italian poet, Ivask welcomed Ungaretti to Oklahoma on March 13, 1970. At the banquet in Ungaretti’s honor, President Hollomon echoed Ivask’s lofty vision for this new award emanating from the Southern Plains of the United States:
This land and this place is for Western man, young, vital, unreasoning, irrational, hopeful, lustful, and youthful. We honor today and he honors us, a poet who at any age is young and hopeful, innocent, loving, and rational. It is this
combination of the Dionysian and Apollonian that makes life have any hope at all. It does us great honor that he comes to us as the first laureate of a prize based upon a tradition of interest in literature at a university only a little more than half a century old, from a place and a time of great tradition from which all of our art, our music, our poetry, and much of our prose comes. It is, I believe, a signal beginning to what I hope will become a great tradition in Western European America as for the whole world: to award a prize to someone in literature without consideration of his background or ideology and without reference to political boundary.
Flushed with the success of having crowned the prize’s first laureate, Ivask soon confronted the inevitable reality of coming up with funding for the next biennial award. Fortunately, a Maecenas—according to 1974 laureate Francis Ponge, evoking the Roman emperor Octavian’s friend and adviser who was legendary for his patronage of Horace and Virgil—came to the prize’s rescue: the Neustadt family of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The same week that Ivask was in France announcing the debut of the Books Abroad Prize, Boyd Gunning, executive director of the University of Oklahoma Foundation, wrote to Doris Westheimer Neustadt to formalize the Walter Neustadt Memorial Fund in honor of her late husband, Walter Neustadt Sr., who had served as a trustee of the foundation from 1951 to 1965. Gunning outlined his plans to utilize the memorial fund to underwrite acquisitions for the library, art museum, and natural history museum and to endow a professorship.11 Walter Neustadt Jr., who had received his master’s degree from OU in 1941, followed in his father’s footsteps as a trustee for the OU Foundation beginning in 1965, joined the advisory board for the University of Oklahoma Press, and served on the OU Board of Regents from 1969 to 1976. Through the intercession of David A. Burr, who had served as President Cross’s assistant and became vice president for university affairs in 1968, Neustadt recognized that the Books Abroad Prize presented a natural opportunity to realize his family’s philanthropic ideals by endowing an award that would bring international renown to his beloved university.12 President Paul F. Sharp announced the family’s initial gift of $200,000 on May 17, 1972, with Regent Nancy Davies, Doris Westheimer Neustadt, Walter and Dolores Neustadt, and Allan and Marilyn Neustadt as honored guests in attendance.
With the endowment in place that spring, Ivask would publish a glowing “Progress Report” in the summer 1972 issue, in which he somewhat triumphantly claimed that “the faith in impartial literary evaluation on a world-wide scale, which this journal has championed now for forty-six years, has again been vindicated.” After receiving the 1972 award, Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez wrote: “This is a prize that has taken shape in the fertile imagination of a native of Estonia who has attempted to invent—rather than dynamite—a literary prize that would be dynamite for the Nobel. It is a prize in the mythical Oklahoma of Kafka’s dreams and the land of the unique rose rock, and has been awarded to a writer from a remote and mysterious country in Latin America nominated by a great writer from far-off Iceland.” By the time French poet Francis Ponge was chosen as the 1974 laureate, it became clear that the Neustadt Prize represented a remarkable convergence between Ivask’s global literary vision and the Neustadts’ cultural patronage. In his acceptance speech, Ponge remarked:
This gratitude—how shall I put it—is very complex, because I owe this honor and this award to the University of Oklahoma and to Books Abroad, to the chairman of the jury, to the jury itself, naturally, and to the Neustadt family who have made it possible for this prize to become something perfectly magnificent. It is so rare to find this combination that I do not know how to express myself. It is certainly extraordinary that almost fifty years ago the University of Oklahoma decided to support a publication like Books Abroad and to continue supporting it. With Mr. Ivask’s assumption of the editorship came the creation of this prize, which is so original and so unlike any other in the conditions of the deliberations, the jury which is renewed with each prize, and all the other very original things connected with it. This initiative is truly extraordinary, as is the family who supports it by playing the role one would expect of a truly cultured Maecenas, that is to say, of one who has a very devoted interest in activities other than sports.
The fledgling’s wings had magnificently spread.
The twenty-five Neustadt laureates’ acceptance speeches in the pages that follow offer five decades’ worth of insight into the evolution of world literature since 1970. Moreover, the accompanying essays that introduce each of the laureates’ speeches provide an evolving panorama of international literary tastes and critical judgments during that same time frame, distilling the collective will of the more than 250 writers, translators, and scholars who have served on the juries over the years. Each of the special issues of Books Abroad or World Literature Today devoted to the prizewinner may likewise be viewed as a time capsule offering a wealth of insights into the literary zeitgeist since 1970.
The predominant theme of the laureates’ acceptance remarks is literature’s relationship to the broader social, cultural, and political world of its time. For some laureates, writing offers an escape from the world into an aesthetic realm purified of worldliness, but for most, writing is inextricably engaged with reflecting or changing the world. Themes of freedom, tolerance, forgiveness, bearing witness, solidarity, justice, and outright revolt appear often in their reflections on the writer’s role. Assia Djebar quotes Mario Vargas Llosa: “In the heart of all fiction, the flame of protest burns brightly.” For Claribel Alegría, inheriting “the sword of poetry” obligates the writer to wield it on behalf of justice.
While some of the Neustadt winners in the pages that follow remain rooted in their country and language of origin, many of the writers pen their works from a place of geographic or linguistic exile, and even those who never left home (or eventually returned) frequently write from a position apart from the cultural mainstream. According to Duo Duo, “Poetry takes this periphery as a blessing and continues to offer rituals for the sick rivers, to offer readable landscapes for the heart.” Often, authors will claim a literary genealogy over a national one: among European poets, an unmistakable line runs through the work of Ungaretti, Ponge, Miłosz, Tranströmer, and Zagajewski. In the New World, another line runs through the work of Bishop, Paz, Cabral, and Brathwaite. Yet both lines readily cross the Atlantic—and Pacific—as well.13
Questions of language abound in their meditations. The laureates frequently invoke both an oral tradition as well as scribal legacies and literary histories in their work. Some plumb the depths of their native tongue, while others, like Farah and Malouf, embrace a polyglot English that may be global in expanse but ultimately full of local “coloratura.” Issues of translation—not only of linguistic transfer but cultural translatability—often arise. Ultimately, for a novelist like Raja Rao, how we use language reflects our humanity, and the writer engages in “radical questioning” to probe the human condition.
One of the perennial pleasures of that condition is the gift of storytelling, and many of the laureates claim that the enchantment of telling stories drives much of their work. Dubravka Ugrešić quotes Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature in this regard: “There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines all three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.” Writers achieve “major” status by enchanting or challenging their readers, without whom they would be anonymous scribes, describing the shadows on the wall of the cave. For Mia Couto, “Literature and storytelling confirm us as relatives and neighbors in our infinite diversity.”
Writers also confront the pressing questions of history in their work, from the Middle Passage (Brathwaite, Danticat), the Cold War (Miłosz, Zagajewski), and civil wars (Alegría, Couto) to the legacies of the postcolonial world. Writing about Patricia Grace’s gift to the Māori people of New Zealand, Mvskoke writer Joy Harjo—the first Native American U.S. poet laureate—connects her work to a globalizing sense of pan-indigenous reckoning: “We understand that we have all been colonized, challenged by the immense story we struggle within. We are attempting to reconstruct ourselves with the broken parts.” In 1973 Gabriel García Márquez announced that he was giving his $10,000 award to a defense fund for political prisoners in Colombia. And in protest against the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America, Max Frisch donated his prize money to a local organization working to build schools in Nicaragua.
While each writer claims the right to absolute freedom in the aesthetic realm of the imagination, their work ultimately connects to the broader moral and ethical concerns of our age. In speaking to “the business of making in all its forms,” David Malouf ponders “what we are seeking when we set out there in the world some artefact, some made thing, that was not previously part of nature but is now, so that nature is changed, enlarged by its presence.” Such “forms of making,” contends Malouf, reflect the power of the writer’s craft to remake the world. In turn, 1984 laureate Paavo Haavikko offers a powerful reflection on the writer’s task:
Thus literature is always philosophical and always moral. It asks what is right in the final count, knowing that there is no reply. But it asks and it seeks, and it cannot be shackled by laws, social systems, technology or business. Using all the rich patterns in the world, literature constructs a form in which the following things can be found: the question of injustice and justice, the movement of events in the world, and darkness. The reader is invited, he is given an opportunity—but he may walk past if he will. It is the writer’s lot to go on working, in the dark, in motion, free, alone, available. The value of this work is not in immutable, established classics; it is not in any completed book; it is in the endless work itself, the endless effort to remain free and unbound.
Djebar, Alegría, Danticat, and others take up “the question of injustice and justice” at an even deeper level, situating their work in the tradition of bearing witness, emerging from the solitude of writerly preoccupations to claim a sense of solidarity with the powerless. “What does the artist do to move the world?” asks Danticat. “I want to say we can begin by bearing witness…Sometimes we cannot fully move the world, but it can move us with its vastness, its expanse, its limitlessness, its geography or geographies, its beginnings and endings, its injustices.” In such a worldview, the writer’s impulse is to work toward healing trauma and ensuring our collective survival. For Djebar, that work of healing is reciprocated by her readers, fellow writers, and like minded artists, who offer her “the power of solidarity [in] the solitude of my exile.”
The centrifugal pull of great literature, as embodied by the work of these twenty-five writers, draws us into a fuller realization of our humanity.
Looking back on the first half-century of the Neustadt Prize, has Ivask’s dream of an award that would be “representative of American concern for genuine achievement in world literature” been fully realized? In his 1978 acceptance speech, Czesław Miłosz replied in the affirmative while at the same time marveling over the improbability of the Neustadt Prize: “The Neustadt literary prize belongs too, in my opinion, to those things which should not exist, because they are against the dark and immutable order of the world. . . . The decision of founding such a prize seems to me a wise one, not only because I am a recipient, but because it favors all those who in the game of life bet on improbability.”
Octavio Paz, the 1982 laureate, echoes Miłosz in offering a broad-minded assessment:
. . . very few literary prizes [. . .] are truly international. Among these a place apart is occupied by the Neustadt Prize. Two characteristics lend it a unique face: the first is that each jury is composed of critics and writers belonging to different languages and literatures, which means that it constitutes an international body, as international as the prize itself; the second characteristic is that the jury is not permanent but instead changes from one prize to the next—that is, every two years. These two characteristics translate into two words: Universality and Plurality. Due to the first word, the prize has been awarded to poets and novelists in Italian, English, French, Polish, Spanish and Czech; due to the second word, Plurality, we find among the laureates not only writers of different languages but also of different literary and philosophical persuasions. In esthetic terms, Plurality is a richness of voices, accents, manners, ideas and visions; in moral terms, Plurality signifies tolerance of diversity, renunciation of dogmatism and recognition of the unique and singular value of each work and every personality. Plurality is Universality, and Universality is the acknowledging of the admirable diversity of man and his works. Considering all this, in the convulsed and intolerant modern world we inhabit, the Neustadt Prize is an example of true civilization. I will say even more: to acknowledge the variety of visions and sensibilities is to preserve the richness of life and thus to ensure its continuity. Hence the Neustadt Prize, in stimulating the universality and diversity of literature, defends life itself.
For Paz, a poet from the ancient cosmopolis of Mexico City who also served as a diplomat in Paris, Tokyo, Geneva, and Mumbai, that such a prize emanated from a small-town university less than a hundred years old must have been even more of a marvel. Decades before he was named a Neustadt laureate, Paz had discovered an Oklahoma-based journal that would open his literary awareness to the world: “In those days the literary isolation of Mexico was almost absolute, to the degree that when I read those pages I felt the opening of the doors of contemporary literature in languages other than my own. For a while Books Abroad was my compass, and foreign literatures ceased to be for me an impenetrable forest.”
Two decades later, Adam Zagajewski would even make the audacious claim that “Norman, Oklahoma, has established itself as one of the undeclared capitals of modernity.”14 And William Gass, in calling the Neustadt Prize “the most important international award we have,” noted that for a writer like Assia Djebar, the award “stands for this priceless connection which literature can make between distantly separated places and far-off times, between a ceremony in Oklahoma and a city in Algeria.” Finally, 2014 laureate Mia Couto would echo Paz in claiming that “what we are celebrating here, in Oklahoma, year after year, is more than literature. With the Neustadt Prize we all praise the cultural diversity of our world and the cultural diversity of each one of us. That is crucial in a moment where personal and national identities are constructed like fortresses, as protection against the threats of those who are presented to us as aliens.”
Combining all these threads into a single appeal, 2016 laureate Dubravka Ugrešić argues that those in positions of cultural power must preserve our “Gutenberg civilization” for the generations that follow:
. . . we should invest all our energies in supporting people who are prepared to invest in literature, not in literature as a way to sustain literacy but as a vital, essential creative activity, people who will preserve the intellectual, the artistic, the spiritual capital. I couldn’t have dreamed that one day a student theater in Norman, Oklahoma, would be putting on the first-ever staging of my story, written thirty-three years ago. Literary continuity, therefore, does exist, and the fact that it describes an unexpected geographical trajectory only heightens the excitement.
The literary landscape that has greeted me in Norman has touched me so deeply that I, briefly, forgot the ruling political constellations. I forgot the processes underway in all the nooks and crannies of Europe, I forgot the people who are stubbornly taking us back to some distant century, the people who ban books or burn them, the moral and intellectual censors, the brutal rewriters of history, the latter-day inquisitors; I forgot for a moment the landscapes in which the infamous swastika has been cropping up with increasing frequency—as it does in the opening scenes of Bob Fosse’s classic film Cabaret—and the rivers of refugees whose number, they say, is even greater than that of the Second World War.
In a “convulsed and intolerant modern world” that increasingly demonizes “those who are presented to us as aliens,” such pleas for cultural patronage and diversity, tolerance, and universality are needed more than ever. Since 1970, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature has helped preserve “the intellectual, the artistic, the spiritual capital” of the world, and one can only hope that the prize will continue to promote it for generations to come.
1 McCarter’s opinion was strongly informed by the counsel of Savoie Lottinville, director of the University of Oklahoma Press, which had handled the printing and distribution of Books Abroad since the journal’s founding in 1927. While Vlach complained of working 60–70 hours a week in his budget request for 1965–66, Lottinville in turn questioned Vlach’s competence in the business of publishing. In an August 1964 letter to McCarter, Lottinville—a former Rhodes scholar who earned a master’s degree from Oxford and coached the university’s boxing team—offers a lengthy analysis of the journal’s editorial formula and circulation woes, then concludes by mentioning the prospect of replacing Vlach. See Savoie Lottinville to Pete Kyle McCarter, December 30, 1963, and August 29, 1964, Presidential Papers of George Lynn Cross, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma, Norman (hereafter abbreviated WHC).
2 Robert Vlach to Pete Kyle McCarter, November 20, 1964, World Literature Today archives, WHC.
3 Robert Vlach to Pete Kyle McCarter, April 21, 1965, World Literature Today archives, WHC.
4 Joseph M. McDaniel Jr., secretary of the Ford Foundation, to George Lynn Cross, June 8, 1965, Cross Presidential Papers, WHC.
5 In accepting the 1972 award, García Márquez would comment, “the role of a literary award like the BA / Neustadt Prize is not only to crown the glorious achievements of the living past (or a dying one, even one that may be dead, for that matter) which has quite often been the case with the Nobel Prize, but also to reward and call attention to the remarkable things actually happening and bursting into creation now.”
6 Herbert Howarth, “A Petition to the Swedish Academy,” Books Abroad 41, no. 1 (Winter 1967): 4–7.
7 Ivask’s “Revised Charter of the Books Abroad International Prize for Literature,” with provisions to limit proxy and absentee balloting, appeared in the spring 1972 issue of Books Abroad. That charter also formalized the procedures of “elimination balloting,” which became the gold standard for other juries in the future.
8 Pete Kyle McCarter to Ivar Ivask, July 10, 1969, World Literature Today archives, WHC.
9 See George Lynn Cross, The Seeds of Excellence: The Story of the University of Oklahoma Foundation (Transcript Press, 1986), 121–22.
10 Ivask recounts the details of the first jury’s proceedings in “Giuseppe Ungaretti: Laureate of Our First International Prize for Literature,” Books Abroad 44, no. 2 (1970): 191–94.
11 R. Boyd Gunning to Mrs. Walter Neustadt [Sr.], September 25, 1969, OU Foundation archives, University of Oklahoma, Norman.
12 An undated eight-page endowment proposal to Walter Neustadt appears in the 1972 Books Abroad folder, box 7 of the Presidential Papers of Paul F. Sharp, WHC. See also David A. Burr to Paul F. Sharp, “Books Abroad” memo, November 30, 1971, Sharp Presidential Papers, WHC; “Literary Prize Endowed” press release, May 11, 1972, Sharp Presidential Papers, WHC; and Carol J. Burr, Because They Cared: A Chronicle of Private Support at the University of Oklahoma (University of Oklahoma Foundation, 1975), 22.
13 The Chinese poet Duo Duo cites the influence of Charles Baudelaire, Federico García Lorca, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Ilya Ehrenburg on his poetry.
14 The French-born literary scholar Henri Peyre once wrote that “Norman, Oklahoma, sounded to many a European ear as Persepolis or Samarkand once may have done to Marlowe or to Keats” (Books Abroad, Autumn 1976).
Daniel Simon is a poet, translator, and WLT’s assistant director and editor in chief. His previous book, the edited volume Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology, 1867–2017, won a 2018 Nebraska Book Award. His most recent edited collection, Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, is available now from Deep Vellum’s Phoneme imprint.
In our sixteenth issue, we celebrate Mapuche poet Elicura Chihuailaf, who in 2020 became the first indigenous writer to receive Chile's National Prize for Literature. We also feature dossiers dedicated to the work of Andrés Neuman, Latin American literary criticism, and the Latin American essay, plus a bilingual selection of texts from Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature commemorating Gabriel García Márquez, the first Latin American author to win the prestigious Neustadt Prize.