British novelist Ian McEwan is the first-ever recipient of the Halldór Laxness International Literary Prize. The award was announced by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir at an international symposium on Halldór Laxness, which was held today.
The award, which is accompanied by a monetary prize of €15,000 [ISK 2,039,850; $16,704], is given to an international author whose work is renewing the art of storytelling. This motivation echoes the statement made by the Nobel Prize for Literature committee in 1955, the year that Halldór won the prize and thus became Iceland’s first—and still only—Nobel Prize winner. As the committee explained at the time, Halldór received the Nobel “for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.”
Ian McEwan was not able to attend the presentation ceremony in person but will be making a visit to Iceland in September to receive it. A video message from the author was shown during the announcement ceremony in which he said that the award meant a great deal to him and that he was looking forward to “the city where the great Laxness was born and wrote.”
Ian was named recipient of the inaugural award by a committee including First Lady Eliza Reid, Icelandic author Einar Már Guðmundsson, and Stella Soffía Jóhannesdóttir, the director of the Reykjavík International Literature Festival, which is currently underway. In its justification for the award, the committee wrote that “It was not least the provocative subject matter [of his work], the seldom-discussed and sensitive themes, which made the author stand out. It has been said of Ian McEwan that he deals not merely with the headlines of the mind, but in equal measure the small print of the soul.”
“Ian McEwan’s work has met with consistent success,” continued the statement, “but he has also remained controversial, which should be regarded as a sign of enduring vitality. With this award, we acknowledge a spectacular career and an author with a pressing message.”
The award is presented in a collaboration among the Prime Minister’s office, the Ministry of Education, Promote Iceland, Gljúfrasteinn (the Halldór Laxness museum), Forlagið Publishing, and the Reykjavík International Literary Festival. Going forward, the award will always be presented during this festival, which takes place every two years.
Read the committee’s full statement on Ian McEwan’s work here.