Masha Gessen Wins Germany’s Hannah Arendt Prize

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Russian-American journalist, essayist, and author Masha Gessen has won Germany’s €10,000 Hannah Arendt Prize based in Bremen.

Masha Gessen. Image: Suhrkamp Verlag, Lena Di

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

‘One of the Most Courageous Chroniclers of Our Time’
Following the win last year by the Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan, the Hannah-Arendt Prize for Political Thinking in Germany today (August 4) has named journalist, author, translator, and activist Masha Gessen the winner of its 2023 Prize for Political Thought.

The formal presentation of the honor is set for December 15 in Bremen, and the award carries a purse of €10,000 (US$11,013), the accolade to be presented by the Hannah Arendt board, the Bremen senate, and board members of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. A round-table discussion with Gessen is scheduled for the following day, December 16, its focus to be “The Search for the State in Totalitarian and Autocratic Societies.”

In its announcement today, the program notes the sheer breadth of topical and thematic concern reflected in Gessen’s work, its rationale reading, “For years, Masha Gessen has been describing political tendencies and conflicts in American and Russian society.

“Gessen reports on power games and totalitarian tendencies as well as civil disobedience and the love of freedom. Masha Gessen writes about the arduous everyday life, cultural conflicts and the struggle for democratic self-determination.

“In a time characterized by autocratic erosion in the United States, war-ready totalitarianism in Russia, and serious conflicts between the great powers, understanding is becoming a civic duty. With books as well as essays in The New Yorker and a strong public presence, Gessen opens up new perspectives that help to understand a world in accelerated change.”

‘One of the Most Courageous Chroniclers of Our Time’

Gessen, published in the States by Penguin Random House and in Germany by Suhrkamp/Insel, was born in Moscow in 1967. In 1981, they emigrated with their family to the States.

In 1991, they returned to Russia as a journalist to follow Russia’s transition to democracy and a market economy. They’re active in the gay and lesbian movement and returned to the States in 2013 because of increasing persecution of gays and lesbians in Russia.

Their published works include Surviving Autocracy (Penguin Random House, 2020); the National Book Award-winning The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Penguin Random House, 2017); The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy (Penguin Random House, 2016); and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Penguin Random House, 2016).

Gessen’s awards in Germany include the 2019 Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding.

In a June 26 article for The New Yorker following the Wagner Group’s short-lived mutiny, Gessen wrote, “In general, the Putin regime, like all totalitarian regimes, aims to prevent people from thinking. But this past weekend Russians—not just the Russians who consume independent media but all Russians who watch any TV or read or watch anything online—saw something extraordinary. They saw real political conflict. They saw someone other than Putin act politically and—even more important—wield force.

“Can all the propagandists and censors make them unsee it? They will try. Russians should probably gear up for an extreme information crackdown.”

The Hannah Arendt Prize jury’s assessment is that Gessen is “one of the most courageous chroniclers of our time.” This year’s jury comprises:

  • Antonia Grunenberg
  • Grit Straßenberger
  • Claudia Hilb
  • Michael Daxner
  • Klaus Wolschner
  • Monika Tokarzewska

The award program is produced by an association with a four-member board and funding from the Böll-Foundation and the City of Bremen. Founded in 1994, the prize is named for the German-American thought leader (1906-1975) who was exiled from Germany in 1933.

More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards programs is here, more on the German market is here, and more on political books is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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.