Latvian poet Amanda Aizpuriete wins Vilenica Prize

Ljubljana – Latvian poet Amanda Aizpuriete is the winner of this year’s International Vilenica Prize for Central European literature, which will be given out during the 37th Vilenica International Literary Festival in Slovenia in September. The Slovenian author in the focus will be Andrej Blatnik, the festival’s organisers told the press on Tuesday.

Born in the Latvian sea town of Jurmala in 1956, Aizpuriete has published nine collections of poems and her works have been translated into 14 languages. The first translator of her poems into Slovenian was acclaimed poet and playwright Veno Taufer.

The laureate belongs to the generation that started writing poetry in the mid-1970s and actively resisted the double morality of Latvian or Soviet society. She has raised many taboo subjects, exposing in particular the life of women in a predominantly patriarchal and socially difficult environment.

Her motifs are mostly based on what is concrete in life, on images of life on the shores of her hometown, on phenomena that are only apparently ordinary, because, in her words, there is nothing that can be called “everyday” or “normal”, the jury, chaired by Aljoša Harlamov, wrote.

The Vilenica prize has been given out since 1986 by the Slovenian Writers’ Association, the organiser of the Vilenica festival, in the Vilenica cave.

Previous laureates include Milan Kundera, Peter Handke, Olga Tokarczuk and Ilma Rakusa, as well as Austrian writer Josef Winkler, who won the accolade last year.

Andrej Blatnik, 59, a member of the postmodernist generation of Slovenian fiction writers, has been chosen as the Slovenia author in the focus of the festival.

Drawing mostly on the experience of American metafiction, this generation emerged in the 1980s and gathered around Literatura literary magazine and Aleph, a book collection Blatnik conceived, said Harlamov.

Blatnik has written five novels, six books of short stories and a book of essays. His books have been translated into a number of languages and received several awards.

Blatnik has also worked as editor at publisher Cankarjeva Založba and, chaired the Vilenica Prize jury in 2007-2015, while he now works as a university professor teaching publishing at the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts.

Returning to the in-person format after two years, the Vilenica festival will run between 6 and 11 September featuring 14 authors from 12 countries and brining 15 events to be held in Karst area, in Ljubljana, Koper, Hrastnik and Italy’s Trieste.

The focus of the discussion will be How Far Is Home, focusing on refugees and language, which is part of a broader topic spanning over the past three years Europe Expands and Contracts. Harlamov said Europe was in crisis because of the refugee crisis, and so was Slovenia, which participates in bureaucratic procedures that violate human rights.

Europe is also not ready for climate refugees, people who will start leaving their countries stricken by drought or floods. And since migrations are also a cultural issue, the festival will dwell upon what refugee and immigrant writers can contribute and how this affects creativity and preservation of memory and identity.

Dušan Merc, head of the Writers’ Association, believes the festival could be a turning point due to recent and current events around the world, such as the Covid epidemic and the war in Ukraine, but hopes for more optimism after it.

One of the Vilenice Prize recipients in its 37-year history has been a Ukrainian author – Yurii Andrukhovych, who won the accolade in 2017. German-Ukrainian author Natalka Sniadanko will be one of the guests this year.

Katlin Kaldmaa and Igor Kotjuh will meanwhile represent Estonia as an anthology of contemporary Estonian literature featuring 21 authors will be published on the occasion.