John Banville received The Franz Kafka Prize 2011
Irish prose writer, dramatist and journalist John Banville came to Prague to accept the international literary Franz Kafka Prize 2011. He received the symbol of the Prize, the bronze statuette of Franz Kafka, on Tuesday, 25th October 2011 in the Brožík Hall of the Old Town Hall on Old Town Square in Prague.
It was not John Banville’s first time in Prague; he knows its history well and also wrote a book about it – Prague Pictures: Portrait of a City. The jury selected him from eleven nominated writers – he has been among them, as one of the greatest contemporary stylists of the English language, already several times.
Since 2001, the Franz Kafka Prize has been awarded by the Franz Kafka Society to the author whose work, exceptional for its artistic quality, addresses readers regardless of their origin, nationality or culture, just like the work of Franz Kafka. According to the statutes, the Prize is awarded for the entire existing production, with at least one of the author’s works having to have been published in book form in Czech.
John Banville has thus become the eleventh laureate of this literary award, the only international literary prize in the Czech Republic so far. It was first received by the American writer Philip Roth in 2001. The second laureate was the Czech writer Ivan Klíma, followed by the Hungarian prose writer Péter Nádas, the Austrian playwright and novelist Elfriede Jelinek, the British playwright Harold Pinter, both of whom later won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2006, the Japanese prose writer Haruki Murakami came to collect his F. K. Prize; one year later, it was the French poet and philosopher Yves Bonnefoy. The Czech writer Arnošt Lustig is the laureate of the prize for 2008. Two years ago, the prize was awarded to the controversial but artistically excellent playwright and writer of Austrian origin Peter Handke. Last year, the prize went to Václav Havel. It can be said that each name represents a chapter of contemporary art of literature on the global scale.
The high status of the prize for which the organisers have endeavoured is ensured by the composition of the jury. Currently, those working in it include the legendary British publisher, discoverer and issuer of the works of Samuel Beckett, John Calder; Professor Emeritus at Yale University, USA, Peter Demetz; French literary critic, André Derval; President of the Austrian Literary Society, Marianne Gruber of Vienna; literary scholar, Oldřich Král; President of the FKS and German scholar, Prof. Kurt Krolop; the today already legendary German literary ‘pope’, the critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki; writer and President Emeritus of the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club, Jiří Stránský, as well as professor of the Technical University in Berlin, the German and Czech scholar, Hans Dieter Zimmermann.
After his studies in Wexford and a short residence in the USA, John Banville worked in the Irish dailies The Irish Press and The Irish Times in Dublin; he was also inter alia a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and devoted himself to literary criticism and reviews. His first book, short stories called Long Lankin, was published in 1970. He is now the author of eighteen novels, of which two free trilogies are exceptional: The Revolutions Trilogy comprised of the novels Doctor Copernicus (1976), Kepler (1981) and The Newton Letter (1982). And the second trilogy includes besides the novels Ghosts and Athena also his novel The Book of Evidence, which was translated into Czech by Pavel Dominik and came out in 1999 as Kniha doličná. For the novel The Sea from 2005, he received The Man Booker Prize (this novel came out in a Czech translation by Richard Podaný as Moře). Banville has used also pseudonyms and writes detective novels as Benjamin Black; two of them have been issued in Czech: Kdo je bez viny (2008; Christine Falls) and Anatomie strachu (2011; The Silver Swan); the third, Elegie za duben (Elegy for April) is being prepared by the Moba publishing house.
The laudatio was presented in the Brožík Hall by André Derval, a French literary scholar, editor and critic as well as a member of the international jury of the F. K. Prize. The symbol of the Prize is a bronze statuette by Jaroslav Róna – a small version of the Franz Kafka Memorial. The Prize is connected with a financial award of $10,000. It was presented by the President of the FKS Kurt Krolop, Director of the F. K. Centre Markéta Mališová, President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic Milan Štěch and Mayor of the Capital City of Prague Bohuslav Svoboda; the last two of them have assumed patronage over the Franz Kafka Prize, and the Capital City of Prague provides it with financial support. The meeting and literary discussion with John Banville for cultural public was organised by the Franz Kafka Society the day after the ceremony, on Wednesday, 26th October. The was consecutively interpreted.