Who Will Win the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature?

November 7, 2017

2018 Neustadt Finalists

One of the benefits of high-level literary prizes like the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Man Booker Prize, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and others is that they give an instant snapshot of what is happening in international literature.  Particularly the Neustadt and the Nobel are decided each time without restriction to national origin or genre. Both act as reliable barometers about what people everywhere are reading and care about.

Take the Neustadt Prize, which will be announced this Thursday 9 November 2017, at around 7:30 pm (CT) at the University of Oklahoma. It is a prize given every other year, and its jurors (usually 9-11) can serve only once. The only restriction to the prize is that a candidate must be a living author who is willing to travel to the University of Oklahoma for the prize ceremony. In a given year, each jury decides everything about what is noteworthy and deserving of recognition. It is also a prize that the New York Times once called the most important literary prize in the world after the Nobel.

This year’s candidates for the prestigious Neustadt are Emmanuel Carrère (France), Aracelis Girmay (U.S.), Yusef Komunyakaa (U.S.), Patricia Smith (U.S.), Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan), Amitav Ghosh (India), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua), Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), and Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russia). That’s only one writer from Europe, three from the U.S., two from Pakistan and India. Two are from the Caribbean, and one is from Eastern Europe.

This slate of candidates tells several stories about current literature. The first is that while the U.S. no longer dominates most prestigious award competitions, books that are translated into English (all of the Neustadt nominees were written in English or are in English versions) have the best chance of being considered for almost any international literary prize. This is true of the Nobel, the Neustadt, and many of the most prestigious awards. The second is that women are moving up in literary prizes with women as five of the nine nominees listed here. Two years ago, women dominated the Neustadt nominations. Third is that the most spotlighted author on this list is Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Exist West. This fact says that the world of international culture and geo-politics—his novels are about immigration, CIA officers and Middle-east terrorists under cover, and stressful living during a time of international foreboding—dominates fiction as well as CNN.

Who will win the Neustadt Prize on Thursday 9 November?  If history is a guide, poets have a slightly better chance of winning than do fiction writers. Neustadt juries historically prefer writers who are on the upswing or mid-career over writers with many prestigious awards. Most of all, Neustadt juries relish their reputation as unpredictable and often choose the writer that no one expected to win—practically a tradition of this prize. Stay tuned on Facebook and other social media for the big announcement Thursday evening at 7:30 pm to get another snapshot into what is happening in international literature.