Nordbok and the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize

The concept of “Nordic Literature” Is there such a thing as Nordic literature? Can one talk about a Nordic cultural community?

Questions of this nature are often voiced by literary critics, cultural workers, authors and others interested in literary and cultural matters, some positive and others more sceptical towards Nordic cultural cooperation. These questions become particularly relevant in connection with the annual award of the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize.

The Nordic Council’s Literature Prize is presented each year to an author from one or other of the various Nordic linguistic areas in recognition of a novel, a play, a collection of poetry, short stories or essays of high literary and artistic merit. The prize attracts considerable interest among the media and is now considered to be among the most prestigious awards open to Nordic authors. In 2001, almost 40 years after the first award ceremony, the Norwegian prize-winner exclaimed that he was -the happiest man in the Nordic region”, a clear indication of the importance the prize has gradually acquired.

The literature prize ignores Nordic national borders, languages and literary genres. Few other prizes permit writers from five different countries and three autonomous regions, all writing in different languages, to appear in the same literary arena and to compete for one and the same prize. The purpose of the award is to create interest for the literature of neighbouring Nordic countries and also to make the world at large aware of literary works published in the Nordic region. Less important is whether or not there are any common features making this literature particularly Nordic. The idea behind the prize is not to show similarities between writers in the Nordic region or to put a finger on any intrinsic Nordic literary characteristics. On the contrary, the prize serves to reveal the multiplicity and wide variety of voices which all are part and parcel of the Nordic literary world.

Nordbok and the literature prize
Responsibility for administering this literary award lies with the Swedish Parliament but the prize naturally also occupies a central place in Nordbok’s activities. One of Nordbok’s most important tasks is to promote the nominated candidates and prize-winners, also to ensure their works the widest possible distribution. All nominated works and the final prize-winner are given priority when considering applications for translation support twice a year. The committee also offers prizewinners the possibility of financial support towards translation into non-Nordic languages, applications in this category being accepted for consideration throughout the year. All nominated works also receive full coverage in the Nordbok Year Book, Nordic Literature, which is published with parallel text in Scandinavian and English. One of Nordbok’s more recent initiatives is the publication of an anthology of excerpts from the works nominated for the award in 2005, together with a presentation of each author.

All the excerpts are printed in their original language and in addition the texts in Faroese, Finnish and Icelandic are accompanied by a translation to one or other of the Scandinavian languages. The anthology, Litteratur i Nord, offers the reader a selection of Nordic authors and examples of their work in both the original language and in translation. Nordbok intends to follow up this initiative with a similar publication presenting the works and writers nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2006.

Translated by Eric Deverill