Independent Foreign Literature Prize
Acceptance Speech (11 April 2002)
A long-standing, colleague and close family friend, I have much pleasure in accepting this award on behalf of Max Sebalds widow, Ute.
The accolades for Max continue to be notched up: in addition to this prestigious prize, as many of you may know, his book, Austerlitz, was short-listed for the WH Smith Fiction Prize, announced last Tuesday - no mean achievement for a so-called foreign writer. He has also been nominated for an honorary award by the American Jewish Writers Association, to be presented at their annual awards ceremony in New York on Monday 15th April.
These are bitter-sweet moments for Maxs family: their obvious pride in his success tempered by the brutal knowledge that he is no longer here to enjoy it.
As an essentially modest and unassuming man, Max instinctively shied away from the limelight and the glare of publicity associated with award ceremonies such as this (what he called: all that bother!) although I know for a fact that he derived considerable satisfaction from the recognition of his talent as a writer bestowed by such awards.
It is, of course, highly appropriate that the outstanding contribution to the success of Austerlitz, made by Anthea Bell, is also celebrated with this award. A highly accomplished and acclaimed translator, she has produced a superbly judged translation of a work of fiction brilliantly written in the original German. It was a collaboration highly prized by Max, as anyone present at their joint appearance on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, last September, will testify.
Maxs tragic death has cruelly robbed not only the German- but also the English-speaking literary world of a major talent. As a now retired Germanist I believe that in the fullness of time his work will occupy its rightful place, central to the canon of late 20th and early 21st century German literature.
His for some uncomfortable choice of theme has in fact a universality which both attempts to come to terms with but also transcends Germanys past. all couched in the most hauntingly beautiful and meticulously crafted German.
I should like on Ute Sebalds behalf to thank those responsible for awarding this prize, particularly the panel of judges and the Independent Newspaper. It is a great honour and privilege for me to accept the Independent Foreign Literature Prize in her name and therefore on Max Sebalds behalf.
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