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The International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot

The third International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award was ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot on June 24, 2024, at Matica Srpska in Novi Sad.

The jury, composed of prestigious European writers and critics, including Chairwoman Ilma Rakusa, László Márton, Karl-Markus Gauß, Vladislava Gordić Petković, and Mathias Énard, decided that this year’s award recipient is Cécile Wajsbrot, a writer, translator, and journalist from France. She received the International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award for her entire literary oeuvre.

The award was presented to the laureate by the jury chairwoman, Ilma Rakusa. The ceremony featured speeches by the President of Matica Srpska, Dragan Stanić, Andrej Tišma, jury chairwoman Ilma Rakusa, jury members László Márton and Vladislava Gordić Petković, and the manager of the Foundation, Bora Babić. The event was highlighted by an address from the award recipient, Cécile Wajsbrot, who spoke to the audience after receiving her award. The program was moderated by Ana Kukolj Jović.

From Ilma Rakusa’s remarks

“What is art capable of achieving, and what social and moral tasks are appropriate for it? What constitutes its relevance? And how is the artistic process structured? These questions are explored in five novels that form a cycle: Conversations with the Master, The Island of Museums, The Guard, Eclipse, and Destruction.

With her dystopian novel Destruction, Wajsbrot responded to the political trends of recent years—the rise of radical right-wing parties and autocratic regimes, the digital surveillance of citizens, and the targeted spread of fake news. Her novel resembles a terrifying vision of what could already happen to us if the libertarian-democratic order is abolished.

Cécile Wajsbrot masterfully intertwines history and the present into a unique tapestry. With great sensitivity and critical alertness, she records the socio-political changes that threaten our collective life. She always incorporates her own experiences, examining her role as an intellectual and writer. Her confrontation with language is particularly convincing, especially in the novel Nevermore, where the work of language is central to the plot, but also in many of her essays. Wajsbrot advocates for linguistic caution, a nuanced handling of words. For where linguistic coarseness prevails, the society too becomes coarse. It is the task of literature to oppose this.

Even if it seems evident, it must be emphasized—Cécile Wajsbrot writes, thinks, and acts as a woman. Her sensitivity and sense of justice, her gift of observation and her language bear an indelibly feminine imprint. This is important in a world where men still dominate, even in the field of art. In a world threatened by violence and hatred.”

From Cécile Wajsbrot’s Speech Upon Receiving the Award

 “I try to imagine that June day in 1991 when Aleksandar Tišma invited representatives of all religious communities and institutions in Novi Sad, aiming to restore the tradition of communal life among people of different origins and nationalities, a clear sign of a desire for peace. However, the war continued, the war spread. Yet, this gesture demonstrates that literature—those who create it and those who read it—can be a place of togetherness, a place where we do not fear the other but invite and welcome them.

When the Iron Curtain still existed, literature was my bridge, with novels written, as we used to say, ‘on the other side.’ Names that French people could hardly pronounce appeared in bookstores, not always prominently displayed, such as Hrabal, Konwicki, Danilo Kiš, Tatarka, Tišma, and Kadare. From them, I learned that it was possible to write novels that encompass the history of one’s own country, and its darkest moments, at a time when we in France were embarking on the great adventure of exploring language and the self. These works encouraged me to seek my own path—that third narrative—off the beaten track, and, like all detours, it took time to find my way. In truth, I did not find it; I forged it. Only in my book Memorial, published in 2005, did the sounds of a tuned instrument emerge, accompanied by the music I wanted to compose.

Memorial. Almost twenty years have passed. I was returning from a trip to Poland where I visited Kielce, the birthplace of my family, on both my mother’s and father’s side. I did not know what I was searching for there, but I did not find it. The river into which the bodies of pogrom victims were thrown seemed so small, so calm… Beware of still waters, they say.”

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