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Book News: Mozambican Writer Wins Neustadt Prize, 'America's Nobel'

Mia Couto received the Camoes Prize, the most important literary award for the Portuguese language, in June.
Francisco Seco
Mia Couto received the Camoes Prize, the most important literary award for the Portuguese language, in June.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • The Mozambican poet, fiction writer and biologist Mia Couto has won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, a biennial award sometimes called "The American Nobel." Couto, who has written dozens of books in his native Portuguese, including novels, short stories, poetry collections and a children's book, tells PolicyMic: "It is a sad moment for Mozambique because we are starting a war that we thought would never come back again. So to receive this good news is something like a compensation for me." Sponsored by University of Oklahoma along with the Neustadt family and the journal World Literature Today, the $50,000 prize has been given to writers such as Czeslaw Milosz and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The executive director of World Literature Today, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, says in a statement, "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."
  • Catherine Chung speaks to NPR's Kat Chow about writing and embracing the label "Asian-American writer": "I love English. ... I wrote my first poem when I was seven in second grade. It was a haiku; it was my first moment where I felt like I had control over language in a way that I could express myself or understand myself. I was seven and I still remember the thrill of it, and I feel like because of that moment, I became a writer."
  • For The New York Times, Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren report on new, Hamas-influenced textbooks used by Palestinian students: "Textbooks have long been a point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which dueling historical narratives and cultural clashes underpin a territorial fight."
  • Diana Chien has three poems in The American Reader. In "Paintings at Lascaux," she writes:
  • "The man is already wearing his death
    in his face as he falls.
    His fingers splay like crows' feet,
    and all his thoughts have fallen
    to dust, a little seed, a little clear water."

  • Patti Smith recalls Lou Reed: "I didn't understand his erratic behavior or the intensity of his moods, which shifted, like his speech patterns, from speedy to laconic. But I understood his devotion to poetry and the transporting quality of his performances. He had black eyes, black T-shirt, pale skin. He was curious, sometimes suspicious, a voracious reader, and a sonic explorer. An obscure guitar pedal was for him another kind of poem."
  • The Pike, Lucy Hughes-Hallett's biography of the Italian poet and demagogue Gabriele d'Annunzio, has won the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, worth £20,000 (about $32,000). The Telegraph's Sarah Crompton writes, "Her achievement is all the more astonishing since d'Annunzio, who lived from 1863 to 1938, is repellent in almost every way. He was a reckless self-publicist, a talent first revealed when he announced his own death in a riding accident at the age of 17, in order to draw attention to the republication of his first — already fantastically successful — book of poems."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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