University at Albany professor Lydia Davis speaks about her international award
Lydia Davis with her Man Booker International Prize on May 22 of this year.
By Kassie Parisi
On Tuesday, Oct. 1 professor Lydia Davis read some of her work at a seminar given by the New York State Writer’s Institute in honor of her recent acquirement of the Man Booker International Prize. This
award has been compared to the Nobel Prize in its prestige and only five of them have been awarded.
The seminar began with an introduction of Professor Davis given by the Director of the New York State Writing Institute, Donald Faulkner.
“It is both miraculous and terrifying what she notices,” Faulkner said, addressing Davis’s writing. He noted also that she has made the short story able to compete with the novel for dominance in society.
When Davis took the stage, she admitted that it was difficult to listen to speeches about herself. She stressed the importance of the ability of a writer to be critical of his or her own work.
“Even when you’ve been writing for years, you can’t be too sure,” she said, addressing her work.
Davis went on to read some excerpts from her books. Most of the pieces she read were very short. She mentioned that many of the stories had to do with experiences she had while traveling. Some titles of the short pieces included “Short Conversation in the Airport Departure Lounge,” “Waiting for Take- Off,” “The Woman Next to Me on the Airplane,” and “The Bad Novel.”
All of these stories were no more than two paragraphs long.
They were about specific things she happened that caught her interest.
Davis then read some letters of complaint she had written, such as “Letter to a Frozen Pea Manufacturer”.
This letter talked about how Davis was not fond of the coloring of the peas on the bag. Davis also read some of her translation work.
After the readings, Davis answered audience questions. One of the questions pertained to her receiving the award. Davis described the process. The ceremony during which the winner would be announced was held in England, so Davis joined finalists from all over the world to wait for the news. Davis said that she, “liked and admired” the other finalists.
“I didn’t think I would win,” she said.
However, despite her doubts, Davis’s name was called when the winner was announced. She was gratified that all of the other finalists were please that she had won. Despite the fact that she was given the award, Davis said that she doesn’t put it where she can see it.
The next question was about her translation work. Davis said that she feels it is very important for people who speak a second language to translate something at least once in their lives. She mentioned that it was particular important to translate works in our English speaking society because fewer people who live in
American society are bilingual, as opposed to other societies. Davis feels that it is important for people to become exposed to a wider variety of languages.
The Man Booker International Prize, which consists of $93,000, is given every two years to a living author of any nationality for writing published in English or available in English translation. Davis received the award on May 22.
“Lydia Davis has repeatedly challenged our notions of storytelling, and in doing so has influenced a generation of writers, both here in Albany and on the international stage. We’re extremely proud of her great honor and international acclaim,” said University at Albany