On 22 May 2014 PEN award-winning author Hassan Blasim and his translator Jonathan Wright were presented with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize at RIBA in London
English PEN is thrilled that one of its World Bookshelf titles, The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim, has won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is a unique collection of short stories that explore Iraq’s recent past, superbly and sensitively translated by Jonathan Wright.
Independent publisher Comma Press received aWriters in Translation award in 2012 for The Iraqi Christ, and received funding for a UK tour for the author and translator. Blasim’s previous collection of short stories, The Madman of Freedom Square,also received a PEN award in 2009.
A poet, filmmaker and short-story writer, Blasim is the first Arab author to receive the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is also the first short-story collection to win the award.
A censored version of The Madman of Freedom Square was printed and published in Lebanon. The book was banned in Jordan, and refused display at book fairs in several Arab countries. The Iraqi Christ is yet to be published in its original Arabic.
In a PEN Atlas interview, Hassan Blasim commented: ‘I now publish most of my stories and poems online and I have started thinking about publishing everything I write on the net in order to be done with the matter of censorship.’
Maureen Freely, president of English PEN said: ‘At English PEN we support work in translation on the basis of its literary merit. Where writers are marginalised, demonised, or suppressed, we do our best to rescue their words from oblivion. We do not seek prizes or fat sales, and there are days when we feel as tired as Sisyphus, but on days like today, when we see that one of our very favourite authors receiving national recognition, it all seems worth it!’
Ra Page, publisher at Comma Press said: ‘Winning this award is an extraordinary vindication for everything English PEN does to support writers from the margins, and to give voice to authors who might otherwise remain unheard. Hassan’s work is the perfect example of how the experiences of Iraqis, and of refugees generally, have to be smuggled in through extraordinary routes. Thanks to Arts Council England, Bloomberg, PEN and The Independent, of course, for helping us get a writer of genuine, shocking genius across that final border.’
The 10,000 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is awarded annually to the best work of contemporary fiction in translation. The 2014 Prize celebrates an exceptional work of fiction by a living author which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom in 2013. Uniquely, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize acknowledges both the writer and the translator equally – each receives £5,000 – recognising the importance of the translator in their ability to bridge the gap between languages and cultures. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize ran previously between 1990 and 1995 and the Prize was revived with the support of Arts Council England in 2000. The Prize money and associated costs are funded by Arts Council England, and supported by The Independent and Champagne Taittinger. Booktrust manage the prize.