If you are a writer or translator in the Czech Republic, then about the biggest accolade you can get is a Magnesia Litera award. The eighth annual Magnesia Litera was launched on Tuesday, with organizers saying they had more than 320 new Czech releases to read their way through and judge. Awards are given for the best new Czech fiction, poetry, children’s literature, and translation, with the Czech public also voting for their own favourite book of the year. The winners will be revealed at a glitzy ceremony in Prague next month, hosted by Czech actress Anna Geislerová. Earlier on, she told me why she’d got involved:
“This is quite simple and quite complicated a question. Because I feel that it is an honour for me to do it, but as well I am quite nervous, because it is a huge responsibility for the big evening, and nobody wants to do it. Everybody says ‘yeah, it is going to be a big building full of intellectuals, writers, and they are going to be bored by you’. But I say ‘so what! I have no ambition to make these people laugh their heads off’. I just would like to do it the right way, which I think we will figure out.”
…And you suggested that the right way may be reading some of your own work?
“This is a little bit of a joke. It is one of the ideas, for me to read some of my dreadful, but specially-written, poetry in the course of this evening.”
Can you tell me what the purpose of Magnesia Litera is – is it a marketing tool to promote Czech authors, or is it to get Czechs to read more?
“I think it is a bit of all of these things. I think it is a wonderful thing to have a prize which is becoming so important. The people who win it do feel it is an honour for them. And also the prize, just the winning of the prize is priceless. And then, you know, this prize does have an influence, because people hear about the winner of this award and then they buy more of these books. So I think this prize is working.”
There are each year seven or eight different winners – are there really all that many very good Czech books coming out every year? It is a very small country.
“Well, I didn’t read all of these books but I think that we have some very, very good authors. We have, I would say, some very special literature, and so many different types of authors. So do we really deserve a prize like this? Yes, I believe so.”
Earlier you were talking about your own reading preferences, and you said that you were mostly interested in modern American fiction…
“Yes, it’s all because when I was around 11, I said to my mother ‘I’m fed up of children’s books, I need something more to read’, and she gave me ‘Breakfast of Champions’ which was quite a tough book for an 11-year-old, but since then, my favourites have been people like Kerouac and that kind of book.”
The winners will be announced on March 18 in Prague’s Stavovské Divadlo.
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