In Brussels, the European Prize for Literature Names Its 2020 Laureates

In News by Porter Anderson

‘In the midst of the greatest rupture in world society,’ publishing and bookselling organizations hail the announcement of this year’s European prize winners from their solace in dangerous hours.

In Brussels. Image – iStockphoto: Alexandros Michailidis Brussels

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Literature When ‘We Can Only Travel in Thought’
At what is hardly an easy time for the European Union, its announcement today (May 19) of its 2020 round of European Union Prize for Literature winners has that sense of continuity that some of the national governments of the world are proving unable to muster.

Mariya Gabriel, the EU commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education, and youth, has gone right to the point in her statement on the release of the new slate of laureates.

In the current crisis,” Gabriel says, “we rely more than ever on artists and authors to help us cope with the isolation of confinement. Reading is a powerful way to feel strong emotions, be transported to a different universe in time and space, and meet new characters, all while staying at home.”

This award program was opened in 2009, as the last great economic crisis swept over the union. Since then, and inclusive of this year, the program has honored 135 writers in 12 cycles of the awards. Every three years, the program cycles through the 41 nations aligned with the Creative Europe cooperation, which funds the prize.

Obviously, one of the best parts of this effort is that it signals to publishers, rights directors, and literary agents important titles to consider for translation.

Nina Obuljen Koržinek

Nina Obuljen Koržinek—minister of culture for the Croatia, which holds the presidency of the EU at the moment—is quoted today, saying, “Through reading translations by local publishers of these awarded works, Croatia has had the opportunity to witness the power of the beautiful contemporary European literary word, as well as the importance of sharing new, different, unknown ideas and perspectives.

“With this year’s European presidency, unexpectedly marked by the COVID-19 pandemic that impacts all previously planned activities, Croatia supports the recognition of the prize for demonstrating the contribution of our literary voices.”

In terms of the pandemic and Brussels’ struggle to support its member-states in the economic upheaval caused by the contagion, Steven Erlanger at The New York Times writes about Germany’s break with tradition to back the concept of collective European debt in order to help the union’s countries most badly damaged by the onslaught of the coronavirus COVID-19.

“Angela Merkel,” Erlanger writes, “joined with president Emmanuel Macron of France to propose borrowing €500 billion (US$545 billion) for a common recovery fund. Its repayment would be the financial responsibility of the entire bloc, but it would primarily benefit the poorer south, which has been hit hardest by the virus.”

At this morning’s writing, the latest update of the Worldometer tracking systems—with a view to 212 countries and territories and generally running several hours ahead of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center—sees the European caseload at 1.8 million with 16,760 new cases just yesterday, May 18.

The European death toll from COVID-19 stands at 163,823. Europe recorded 780 new deaths yesterday. And today, Europe already has registered 204 new deaths, even as many countries work to make early efforts at reopening their economies.

European Union Prize for Literature 2020 Winners

•    Nathalie Skowronek, La carte des regrets (The Map of Regrets), for Belgium (French-speaking) — Grasset
•    Lana Bastašić, Uhvati zeca (Catch the Rabbit), for Bosnia and Herzegovina — Buybook
•    Maša Kolanović, Poštovani kukci i druge jezive priče (Dear Insects and Other Scary Stories), for Croatia — Profil
•    Σταύρος Χριστοδούλου (Stavros Christodoulou), Τη μέρα που πάγωσε ο ποταμός (The Day the River Froze), for Cyprus — Kastaniotis Publications
•    Asta Olivia Nordenhof, Penge på lommen (Money in Your Pocket), for Denmark — Basilisk
•    Mudlum (Made Luiga), Poola poisid (Polish Boys), for Estonia — Strata
•    Matthias Nawrat, Der traurige Gast (The Sad Guest), for Germany — Rowohlt
•    Shpëtim Selmani, Libërthi i dashurisë (The Booklet of Love), for Kosovo* — Armagedoni
•    Francis Kirps, Die Mutationen (The Mutations), for Luxembourg — Hydre Editions
•    Stefan Bošković, Ministar (Minister), for Montenegro — Nova
•    Петар Андоновски (Petar Andonovski), Страв од варвари (Fear of Barbarians), for North Macedonia — Или-или (ili-ili)
•    Maria Navarro Skaranger, Bok om sorg (Book of Grief), for Norway — Oktober
•    Irene Solà, Canto jo i la muntanya balla (I Sing and the Mountain Dances), for Spain — Anagrama

Each year, national juries comprising experts in various fields of literature, publishing, and bookselling are set up in a rotating third of the participating Creative Europe countries. After designating a national shortlist of two to five candidates, the juries each decide on their national winner.

Writers: ‘The Backbone of Free Speech’

At the European Writers Council, Nina George—the German writer serving as president—today has issued a statement on the announcement of the new prizes:

Nina George

“In the midst of the greatest rupture in world society and a fundamental challenge for the European cultural landscape, we celebrate voices and authors of a united and yet diverse Europe.

“On behalf of the European Writers’ Council, we warmly congratulate the nominees and winners of this year’s prize. Your books are also the means of survival in a time of isolation in which we can only travel in thought–to our neighbors and friends in Europe.

“Observation, imagination, discipline, creativity and professional craftsmanship combine in your novels and short stories to create award-winning literature. We thank you for your courage and perseverance–because you, dear writers, you are the backbone of free speech.

“You are the sources of the book value chain, and your works are the basis for democracy, cultural exchange, and a true European community.” 

At the Brussels-based Federation of European Publishers, the organization’s president Rudy Vanschoonbeek says, “Reading is a key component of our lives especially while we go through a dramatic crisis.

“I’m reassured that one of the consequences of the confinement is that the Europeans are reading much more.

“We will be bringing to their attention these 13 laureates. Their winning books come from all over Europe and soon, with translations into many more languages, the prize will play its role of multiplicator, of an echo chamber for emerging authors. Good luck to them all.”

And at the European and International Booksellers Federation, the co-president Jean-Luc Treutenaere says, “This is especially important now, as the book industry, like many other cultural sectors, faces the effects of the coronavirus lockdown. As many European countries slowly reopen, I’m looking forward to welcoming our winning laureates to many bookshops in their winning countries, and across Europe when possible.”

Here’s the video recorded for the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature announcement, released today and displaying each book over a soothing bed of music:

Submit Rights Deals to Publishing Perspectives

On the topic of translation, do you have rights deals to report? We have accelerated our Rights Roundups to support agents and rights directors who can’t meet at trade shows and book fairs during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Our next iteration of our Rights Roundups runs on Friday (May 22), and you can use our rights deal submission form to send us the information we need. If you have questions, please send them to

I most instances, we give preference to titles that already have some right sales, although you’re welcome to submit titles that are just moving onto the markets. Please be sure to fill out the form completely, and be sure to list not only the country or language into which a book’s rights have been sold, but also that foreign publisher.

We look forward to hearing from  you.

More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book awards is here. More on Europe is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.