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Page 3 Profile: Lydia Davis, author


That scarf, those glasses  – she must be a writer?

Correct! Lydia Davis has just won the fifth Man Booker International Prize. The prestigious award – last won by Philip Roth in 2011 – is presented every two years to a living, non-UK author for a body of work published in English. Davis, 65, an American, bagged the £60,000 honour despite competition from U R Ananthamurthy from India, Chinese writer Yan Lianke and Vladimir Sorokin from Russia.

Is she famous?

The Massachusetts-born author is best known for her short stories – some among the shortest ever published. She has been described as “the master of a literary form largely of her own invention”.

Just how short are they?

“Christian, I’m not a.” That’s one.

Surely that’s just the title?

No, its title is Index Entry. Getting To Know Your Body is only marginally longer. “If your eyeballs move, this means that you’re thinking, or about to start thinking,” it goes. “If you don’t want to be thinking at this particular moment, try to keep your eyeballs still.”

Did her ink run out?

That’s the size they’re meant to be. Lauding the winner, Booker judge Professor Sir Christopher Ricks said: “Lydia Davis’s writings fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorise them? Should we simply concur with the official title and dub them stories? Or perhaps miniatures? Anecdotes? Essays? Jokes? Parables? Fables? Texts? Aphorisms, or even apophthegms? Prayers, or perhaps wisdom literature? Or might we settle for observations?” Davis, who is married to the New York author Paul Auster, has influenced writers including Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers. She’s also well regarded as a translator of French literature and once said her style was a ”reaction to Proust’s long sentences”.