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The King of Warsaw wins the EBRD Literature Prize 2021

By EBRD  Press Office

  • 20,000 prize split between the author and translator
  • Prize recognises best work of literary fiction from the EBRD’s regions translated into English

The King of Warsaw, a novel written by Szczepan Twardoch and translated from Polish by Sean Gasper Bye, has won the 2021 EBRD Literature Prize.

The €20,000 prize will be split between the author and translator.

This is now the fourth year of the EBRD Literature Prize which celebrates the very best in translated literature from the nearly 40 countries where the Bank invests: from central and eastern Europe to Central Asia, the Western Balkans and the southern and eastern Mediterranean.

The €20,000 Prize is awarded to the best work of literary fiction originally written in a language from one of these countries, which has been translated into English and published by a UK or a Europe-based publisher.

The international prize was created in 2017 by the EBRD, in cooperation with the British Council. It is one of the few international literature prizes which recognises both author and translator in equal measure.

The King of Warsaw (published by Amazon Crossing) is written by the best-selling Polish novelist Szczepan Twardoch, and it is his first novel to be translated into English. Set in late 1930s Warsaw, the book is an intense and vibrant portrait of a world of violence and fast-living, criminal fraternities, racist tension and political turmoil. At its heart is the unforgettable character of Jakub Szapiro – a Jewish boxer and gangster on the rise.

Toby Lichtig, Chair of the independent judging panel, said: “Hard-hitting, page-turning, brilliantly crafted and deeply moving, The King of Warsaw brims with memorable characters, vivid scenes, sharp dialogue and period detail. It is also fantastically well-plotted. Superbly translated by Sean Gaspar Bye, whose tasks involved mixing Polish street slang with Yiddishisms, it is at once a pulp thriller, a linguistic feast, a historical tapestry and a devastatingly clever excavation of memory.”

Announcing the winner of this year’s Literature Prize at a virtual event today, Odile Renaud-Basso, EBRD President, said:  “Through the EBRD Literature Prize, we recognise the role that the writer plays in society, in reflecting the aspirations and challenges facing people over time. And through this Prize, we also recognise the role that the translator plays in bringing these writers’ voices to a wider audience.” 

Szczepan Twardoch is the author of the bestselling novels MorphineDrach, and The King of Warsaw. He is the recipient of numerous honours for his work, including the Brücke Berlin Preis, Le Prix du Livre Européen, and Nike Literary Award: Audience Award. Rights to his novels have been sold in over a dozen countries. The King of Warsaw is the first of his books to be translated into English. A TV series based on the novel is being produced by Canal+. He lives in Pilchowice, Upper Silesia.

Sean Gasper Bye is a translator of Polish, French and Russian literature. He was recently Literature and Humanities Curator at the Polish Cultural Institute, New York. Notable translations from Polish into English include The King of Warsaw by Szczepan Twardoch and Ellis Island: A People's History by Małgorzata Szejnert. Many of his translations of Polish fiction, reportage, and drama have appeared in Words Without BordersCatapult, and Continents.  He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowship.

The two runner-up titles for the EBRD Literature Prize 2021 received €8,000, also split between author and translator. These were The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway (Publisher: Peirene Press), and Mr K Released by Matei Vişniec, translated from Romanian by Jozefina Komporaly (Seagull Books).

Many of the finalist writers and translators were present at the EBRD virtual ceremony on 1 June, during which fellow judges Toby Lichtig and Anna Aslanyan discussed the winning book and the art of literary translation.

The independent panel of judges for this year’s EBRD Literature Prize chose the three finalists from 10 longlisted titles, announced on 11 March.

See all information about the EBRD Literature Prize                                                                                

About the EBRD Literature Prize

The EBRD Literature Prize is a project of the Bank’s Community Initiative, which provides a framework for the engagement of staff and the institution in philanthropic, social and cultural activities in the regions where the Bank works.

The 2021 edition was awarded to the best work of literary fiction translated from the original language into English and published for the first time by a UK or Europe-based publisher between 15 November 2019 - 31 December 2020,

Past winners of the EBRD Literature Prize

The first EBRD Literature Prize was won in April 2018 by the Turkish author Burhan Sönmez and his translator Ümit Hussein for the novel Istanbul, Istanbul (Saqi Books). The second Literature Prize was won by the Uzbek writer, Hamid Ismailov and translator Donald Rayfield (with John Farndon) for The Devils’ Dance (Tilted Axis Press) --  the first novel translated from Uzbek into English. The third Literature Prize was won in May 2020 by the Lithuanian author Grigory Kanovich and his translator Yisrael Elliot Cohen for the novel Devilspel (Noir Press).

About the Judges

Toby Lichtig (Chair of Judges) is the Fiction and Politics Editor of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). He is also a freelance editor and writer, and writes for a range of publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian. Toby has appeared as a guest critic on various television and radio programmes. He also freelances as a documentary producer. He was chair of judges of the 2018 JQ-Wingate Prize and was a jury member of the 2019 EU Prize for Literature.

Twitter: @TobyLichtig

Anna Aslanyan is a freelance journalist and translator from Russian. She writes for the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) and other publications. Her translation of Egor Kovalevsky's 1848 travelogue, A Journey to Inner Africa, is forthcoming with Amherst College Press in November 2020. Her popular history of translation, Dancing on Ropes: Translators and the Balance of History, will be published by Profile Books in May 2021.

Twitter: @anna_aslanyan

Julian Evans is a biographer, travel writer and translator. He established himself on the literary scene with Transit of Venus (1992), an account of his journey across the Pacific Ocean to the US's nuclear-missile test range at Kwajalein Atoll. His most recent book is Semi-Invisible Man, an authorised biography of the writer Norman Lewis. Julian has written and presented radio and television documentaries and writes for English and French newspapers and magazines including the GuardianProspectDaily TelegraphGrantaConde Nast Traveller, and L’Atelier du Roman. He translates from French and German and is a recipient of the Prix du Rayonnement de la Langue Française from the Académie Française. He is a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow.

Twitter: @thejulianevans

Kirsty Lang is an experienced journalist and broadcaster with a special interest in foreign affairs and the arts. She spent many years as a foreign correspondent reporting for the BBC and the Sunday Times from eastern Europe and later Paris. She has been a presenter on Channel 4 News, BBC World, and the Radio 4 daily arts programme Front Row. She chaired the Orange Prize for Fiction, and was a judge of the Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction in Translation. She has been a visiting Professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York and teaches a writing course at University College London. She is also Chair of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and a former Trustee of the British Council.

Twitter: @bbckirstylang

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