Poetry News

Lydia Davis Wins Man Booker Prize

By Harriet Staff


Every poet's favorite story writer, Lydia Davis, has won the Booker International Prize, reports the New York Times:

Lydia Davis, the American writer known for her very short stories, has been awarded the Man Booker International Prize.

The award, announced in London on Wednesday, is given every two years to a living author for “an achievement in fiction on the world stage.” It is accompanied by a prize of £60,000, or about $91,000. Eligible work must be published originally in English or widely available in translation.

Sir Christopher Ricks, chairman of the judges, said in a statement that Ms. Davis’s writings “fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind. Just how to categorise them? They have been called stories but could equally be miniatures, anecdotes, essays, jokes, parables, fables, texts, aphorisms or even apophthegms, prayers or simply observations.”

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan, published “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis” to great acclaim in 2009.

Coincidentally, just the other day, Laynie Brown wrote of Davis at Jacket2:

When I asked Davis about divisions between poetry and prose, and between short fiction and the novel in her own work she replied “I don’t label ahead” (meaning she does not decide before she begins to write what genre she is creating) and noted that she thinks of her work as a “continuum” indicating that these boundaries between genres and forms are for her somewhat fluid, and not something she considers while she is writing. She said “the material determines the length.”

When she was asked her why she writes “short fiction” she invoked the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan and his homage to Zukofsky, the point being that the title of his poem is three words and the poem itself is only one word, “the.”

In Stein we find “A sentence which is in one word is talkative.” And “A paragraph without words.”

Davis also noted that while working on her translation of Proust she spent long days toiling over the Proustian sentence, so in her own work at the time she “reacted against it a bit,” and “decided to see how short” her works could be and “still have them have substance.”