Dave Eggers accepts award but refuses to attend ceremony to collect literary prize in protest over Günter Grass's controversial poem about Israel
Grass was last week barred from Israel following publication of his poem, What Must Be Said, which warned that Israel's "nuclear power is endangering / Our already fragile world peace". The author, who served as a young man in the Nazi Waffen SS, was subsequently declared persona non grata in the country by Israel's interior minister Eli Yishai, for his "attempt to fan the flames of hatred against the state of Israel and its people, and thus to advance the idea to which he publicly affiliated in his past donning of the SS uniform".
Eggers was due to receive the Günter Grass Foundation's €40,000 Albatross prize, won in the past by David Grossman, Bora Ćosić and Lídia Jorge, on Friday for his book Zeitoun, the story of a Syrian-American's experiences in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But the author said that while he was "very happy" to receive the award, he decided not to attend the ceremony in person following the international uproar over Grass's poem.
"In the wake of Mr Grass's recent controversial poem, I felt that the award ceremony should be postponed, so the controversy would not distract from the very separate work of the Foundation and the subject matter of Zeitoun," he said in a statement. "The organisers chose to go on with the ceremony on the existing date, and thus I felt it best if I did not attend in person. The issues raised in Grass's recent poem are not issues I am prepared to speak about, and I would have been expected to comment on them repeatedly. That said, I am happy that the Foundation has recognised my book and has brought attention to the issues of justice and interfaith cooperation I attempted to highlight in Zeitoun."
Eggers said that when the award was announced in December, he asked that the prize money be given to agencies in Germany that promote interfaith understanding. "The Foundation kindly granted that wish. I thank them for this honour and for their generosity," he said.
The Albatross prize is for a writer whose work "is exceptional for its high literary quality and its cultural and socio-political relevance", with the winning work intended to promote "freedom of thought and an unconstrained engagement with every area of our life, world and times". Judges said that Zeitoun "makes a powerful case for civic conscience and convictions", with Eggers' achievement "to have calmly separated the life of one Syrian American out from the context of post-9/11 hysteria and given it back its quiet, unremarkable, everyday dignity".