The links below are to articles reporting on the winner of the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize – Bryan Washington for ‘Lot.’ The prize is awarded to the best literary work in English written by an author under 40 years of age.
The controversy has spurred long-standing debates about where stories come from, who is responsible for them and what it means as a writer to bear witness to truth — and also, which persons or institutions have the authority to do so.
The publisher of the English-language 1997 translation describes the book on its jacket as both a “sensitive and nuanced meditative travelogue through Serbia,” and a “scathing criticism of western war reporting.”
The bigger context is that some perpetrators denied findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (sometimes referred to as the Hague Tribunal, based in The Hague, Netherlands) — and the tribunal documented atrocious strategies to conceal crimes, such as moving mass graves. Denials of the Srebrenica genocide continue today.
For French philosopher Michel Foucault, the author is a kind of scribe who commits language to paper. The implication is that the author is writing down the realities of the world outside. In his view, “the function of the author is to characterize the existence, circulation and operation of certain discourses within a society” — meaning, ideas and messaging, as he elaborated in his 1969 essay “What is an Author?”
Before them, T.S. Eliot proclaimed in 1919 that writing “is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.”
As feminist literary scholar Cheryl Walker has noted, independence-of-the-text critiques have to a certain extent helped “liberate the text for multiple uses,” like re-reading canonical texts from critical feminist perspectives.
But such critiques have also been at odds with literary traditions on the margins.
Historically, the significance of lived personal and collective experiences have been central features of texts by women, Black, Indigenous and people of colour, queer or transgender writers.