History: The Neustadt International Prize for Literature
The prize was established in 1969 as the Books Abroad International Prize for Literature, then renamed the Books Abroad / Neustadt Prize before assuming its present name in 1976, The Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The Neustadt Prize is the first international literary award of this scope to originate in the United States and is one of the very few international prizes for which poets, novelists, and playwrights are equally eligible. It is widely considered to be the most prestigious international literary prize after the Nobel Prize in Literature and, in fact, is often referred to as the “American Nobel” because of its record of 34 laureates, candidates, or jurors who in the past 51 years have been awarded Nobel Prizes following their involvement with the Neustadt Prize. Dispatches from the Republic of Letters: 50 Years of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (Deep Vellum/Phoneme, 2020), edited by WLT editor in chief Daniel Simon, gathers the prize lectures of the first 25 laureates along with the nominating jurors who championed their work. The anthology received a Publishers Weekly starred review and was named a PW “Book of the Week” when it debuted in October 2020.
“The Neustadt Prize, in stimulating the universality and diversity of literature, defends life itself.” – Octavio Paz, “Laureate’s Words of Acceptance,” World Literature Today 56:4 (Autumn 1982)
The Neustadt Prize Charter
The charter of the Neustadt Prize stipulates that the award be given in recognition of outstanding achievement in poetry, fiction, or drama and that it be conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in any language is eligible, provided only that at least a representative portion of his or her work is available in English, the language used during the jury deliberations. The prize may serve to crown a lifetime’s achievement or to direct attention to an important body of work that is still developing. (The prize is not open to application.)
“Since its inception, Books Abroad has manifested a lively concern for the annual choices made by the Swedish Academy for that most respected of writing awards, the Nobel Prize for Literature. When we decided to first award the Neustadt Prize, Professor Herbert Howarth… recommended that poets and dramatists be considered on a par with novelists; that the prize should not necessarily crown a life’s work, but should upon occasion direct attention to an important life work in progress; finally, that authors from the less-known literatures should not be regarded as the least eligible. The Neustadt Prize is intended to be… representative of American concern for genuine achievement in world literature.”—Ivar Ivask, “Preamble,” Books Abroad 43:4 (Autumn 1969)
After the announcement of the endowment of the Books Abroad Prize by the Neustadt family at the University of Oklahoma, May 17, 1972. Seated from left: Doris Westheimer Neustadt, Walter Neustadt Jr., and Nancy Davies, president of the OU Board of Regents. Standing from left: University of Oklahoma president Paul F. Sharp, Dolores Neustadt, Marilyn Neustadt, and Allan Neustadt.
Maya Angelou with the 1986 Neustadt Jury (seated, left to right): Margherita Guidacci, Maya Angelou, Shuichi Kato, former WLT editor in chief Ivar Ivask; (standing, left to right) Sigurdur Magnússon, Adolf Muschg, José Luis Cano, Gregory Rabassa, Anthony Rudolf. Not pictured: Iordan Chimet, Mordecai Richler.
“The seriousness of the [jury’s] final choices is perhaps best illustrated by pointing out the international character of the resulting list of candidates, where an Icelandic writer presents a Colombian novelist, an Israeli poet wants to go to a Yugoslav poet, while an American poet-critic opts for a Polish colleague. Thus quite spontaneously the faith in impartial literary evaluation on a world-wide scale, which this journal has championed now for forty-six years, has again been vindicated.”—Ivar Ivask, “The Editor Parenthesizes,” Books Abroad 46:3 (Summer 1972), 426
Photo: Tomas Tranströmer, 1990 Neustadt Prize Laureate
A History of the Prizes in Pictures
History: The NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature
Initiated with the 2003 prize, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature is awarded every other year to a living writer or author-illustrator with significant achievement in children’s or young-adult literature. Made possible through the generosity of Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz, and Kathy Neustadt and sponsored by WLT, the NSK Prize celebrates literature that contributes to the quality of children’s lives. Candidates for the award are nominated by a jury of children’s and young adult literature experts, and the jury also selects the winner of each biennial prize.
Laureates receive a check for $25,000, a silver medallion, and a certificate at a public ceremony at the University of Oklahoma and are featured in a subsequent issue of WLT. In 2019 the Neustadt family increased the prize money to $35,000.
“Norman has gained the fame of an intellectual Mecca for those who . . . care for the life of the mind.”—Henri Peyre, World Literature Today, Autumn 1985
Photo: Krys Lee, 2014 Neustadt Prize Juror