Lydia Davis, the shortest of all short story writers, whose works can be as brief as a single sentence, has won the fifth Man Booker International Prize.
The influential American writer accepted the £60,000 honour, which is presented every two years to a living, non-UK author for a body of work published in English, at a ceremony held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Davis, 65, was chosen from a heavyweight list of ten contenders including U.R. Ananthamurthy of India, Chinese writer Yan Lianke and Vladimir Sorokin of Russia.
The Massachusetts-born Davis is best known for her short stories, a number of them among the shortest ever published. She has been described as “the master of a literary form largely of her own invention”.
Her work, closer to essayist poems and philosophical monologues than conventional short stories, includes the story collections Break It Down (1986), Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2002) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007).
Typically her stories run for between three and four pages. But many are as brief as a paragraph, or a sentence.
The New Yorker praised her “lucidity, aphoristic brevity, formal originality, sly comedy, metaphysical bleakness, philosophical pressure, and human wisdom.”
Davis, who is married to artist Alan Cote, has influenced a generation of writers including Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers, who wrote that Davis, “blows the roof off of so many of our assumptions about what constitutes short fiction.”
Currently professor of creative writing at the University at Albany, the capital of New York State, Davis is due to publish her next collection of short stories, Can’t and Won’t, in June 2014.
Davis is also well known for her work as a translator of French literature and philosophy. Her translations include Marcel Proust’s Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way) and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
Announcing the winner, Booker judge Professor Sir Christopher Ricks said: “Lydia Davis’ 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?
“There is vigilance to her stories, and great imaginative attention. Vigilance as how to realise things down to the very word or syllable; vigilance as to everybody’s impure motives and illusions of feeling.”
Davis has previously won major American writing awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship for fiction and was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.
The Booker International prize has previously been awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009 and Philip Roth in 2011.
Lydia Davis in brief:
Christian, I’m not a
Getting to Know Your Body
If your eyeballs move, this means that you’re thinking, or about to start thinking.
If you don’t want to be thinking at this particular moment, try to keep your eyeballs still.
An outburst of anger near the road, a refusal to speak on the path, a silence in the pine woods, a silence across the old railroad bridge, an attempt to be friendly in the water, a refusal to end the argument on the flat stones, a cry of anger on the steep bank of dirt, a weeping among the bushes.
All taken from The Collected Stores of Lydia Davis, published by Penguin Books.
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