Antonio Emilio Leite Couto, the Mozambican poet, novelist and short story writer, has won the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, which is also sometimes called “The American Nobel”. He was chosen to get the award by the independent jury of nine international authors. Earlier one of them, Gabriella Ghermandi, nominated him for it, saying: “He is an author who addresses not just his country but the entire world, all human beings.”
The prize itself consists of a silver eagle feather and $50,000. It is sponsored by journal World Literature Today, the Neustadt family and by the University of Oklahoma. The Neustadt Prize is considered to be one of the most significant literary awards in the world, it was granted to such writers, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Czeslaw Milosz.
None of the authors from Mozambique was either to be nominated for or to win the Neustadt Prize – Couto is the first one to do both things. He is one of the most important and famous Mozambican writers, his books are known worldwide and translated in more than 20 languages. Among his works are short stories, novels, poems and even a book for children. All of his prose and poetry is written in Portuguese, which is his mother tongue. In his works Couto uses magical realism, besides, he is known for his creativity with the choice of words. As his nominator, Gabriella Ghermandi, remarked: “Within his novels, each line is like a small poem.”
Couto’s career as a writer started during Mozambican War of Independence – back then he was an editor of two journals. His first book of poetry, “Raiz de Orvalho”, was published in 1983, and his first novel, “Sleepwalking Land” – in 1992. By the way, “Sleepwalking Land” is the book, which was represented by Couto for the Neustadt. It is also considered to be one of the best African novels of the 20th century.
Robert Con Davis-Undiano, the executive director of the journal World literature today made a following remark on Couto’s novel: “Mia Couto is trying to lift the yoke of colonialism from a culture by reinvigorating its language. A master of Portuguese prose, he wants to lift that burden one word, one sentence, and one narrative at a time, and in this endeavor he has few if any peers.”
After finding out the fact, that he is the 23rd laureate of the Neustadt Prize, Couto commented: “This award is timed perfectly, as Mozambique is about to go through a difficult time. For me personally, this award is certainly a relief, a ray of sunshine, at this sad national moment.”