Finalist for a 2020 Foreword INDIES Award
Since the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature was first bestowed on Giuseppe Ungaretti in 1970, the award has charted the high-water marks of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century world literature. Sponsored by World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature and culture, the Neustadt Prize solidified Norman, Oklahoma’s place on the map as “one of the undeclared capitals of modernity,” in the words of 2004 laureate Adam Zagajewski.
Dispatches from the Republic of Letters (Deep Vellum/Phoneme, 2020) gathers the prize lectures of the first twenty-five Neustadt laureates (1970–2018) as well as the essays—in the form of nominating statements or celebratory encomia—by the twenty-five jurors who championed each writer’s work. WLT’s executive director, RC Davis-Undiano, and editor in chief, Daniel Simon, frame the anthology by situating the prize in the broader landscape of international letters and within the unique history of its association with the University of Oklahoma and WLT.
Since 1970, the Neustadt Prize has come to symbolize unimpeachable literary excellence. The hallmark of the prize has been its insistence on honoring literary merit over any consideration of geopolitics, sales figures, or publisher lobbying; the jury deliberations and voting process are also world renowned for their fairness and integrity. Dispatches from the Republic of Letters offers readers a front-row seat from which to witness the pageant of world literature as it has flourished in the past fifty years.
“Dispatches from the Republic of Letters . . . is conversation of the highest order. . . . Questions of literary merit paled this afternoon [January 6, 2021] in the face of marauders rampaging through the Capitol, and as these acts of domestic terrorism were broadcast around the world, it came to me that these sorts of terrible incidents, which for many Americans had seemed unimaginable, were in one form or another well known to most of the writers honored in Dispatches from the Republic of Letters. Which is another reason why we must heed their witnessing. It is too late to imagine that, as many pundits and politicians now claim, what unfolded in the Capitol is not America. This is indeed America. And if we hope to gain some insight about the true state of the nation’s soul, we might consider how these writers stared into different abysses in their own countries and produced imaginative works that see all too clearly.”—Christopher Merrill, “On Literary Awards, Neustadt and Nobel,” Los Angeles Review of Books, February 2, 2021
“More than mere collections of various authors’ ideas about the world and about literature, Dispatches gives us a multifocal perspective on the making of world literature itself.”—Jan Steyn, 91st Meridian 10, no. 4 (Fall 2020)
“Like the prize itself, this volume is a tribute and a testament to literature, and a reward for readers.”—Publishers Weekly “Book of the Week” for October 19, 2020
“Honorees have included Gabriel García Márquez, Elizabeth Bishop, Tomas Tranströmer, David Malouf, Claribel Alegría, and Dubravka Ugrešić, with obvious attention to a diverse body of writers from many traditions and ethnicities. Many of those writers have faced political repression at home. . . The enchanters gathered in this volume all merit our attention. A welcome anthology for readers of world letters.”—Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2020
“If there is a single mode that operates across all the Dispatches, it is praise: praise for the authors; praise for the Neustadt family; praise for Norman, Oklahoma, where the prize is based; praise for the University of Oklahoma and WLT, the auspices under which the prize is awarded; and praise for the world of letters as such, frequently cast as an oppositional force to more political world affairs, even for this most ‘apolitical’ of prizes.”—Jan Steyn, professor of literary translation and French at the University of Iowa
“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.”—Gabriel García Márquez, 1972 Neustadt Laureate
“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.”—Czesław Miłosz, 1978 Neustadt Laureate
“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.”—Octavio Paz, 1982 Neustadt Laureate
“The records of the Neustadt Prize over the years attest to the success of its juries in identifying those writers who are truly pushing the boundaries of world literature.”—J. M. Coetzee, 1994 Prize Juror and 2004 Nominee
“The Neustadt Prize honors the world’s best writers, chosen by many of the world’s best writers. These storytellers take care of us as we spiral through the sky, bringing the exact story-food the people need to carry them through tough, transformative times. I especially appreciate that World Literature Today, which sponsors the prize, is located here in the heart of Oklahoma.”—Joy Harjo, 2008 Prize Juror