Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Fourth Press Release 2005

Berlin, 16 October 2005

(Click here for versions in French, German and Spanish.)

Winners of the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage 2005

The international jury of the Lettre Ulysses Award, the only world prize for literary reportage, announced this year’s winner on October 15th in Berlin.

The first prize of 50,000 Euro and a trophy designed by the Berlin artist Jakob Mattner were awarded to:

* Alexandra Fuller (Great Britain) for the book Scribbling the Cat. Travels with an African Soldier, Penguin Press, New York, 2004.
In this book, Alexandra Fuller, who was born in Britain but grew up in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe and calls herself a “white African”, describes her journey with a war veteran and mercenary to the scenes of the East African wars in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The background of this reportage is the fate of Africa’s “white tribe”, who were on the wrong side of history.  The highly personal text is both a study of the social and psychological traces of war and a journey into the heart of the “universal soldier”. 
Alexandra Fuller says of the book: “Much has been said about war but too little is said honestly about war and even less is said of those who fight and lose but must still carry with them the scars (mental and physical) of battle. While I hate war, I cannot hate the soldiers whose burden it is to fight them and I cannot ever choose “one side over another” in any conflict. After all, anyone who is given a gun is also given lies with which to carry them into battle.  And then afterwards, when the politicians have moved into retirement villages or returned to their secluded ranches and the wars they precipitated are just blots in their resume, the soldiers who carry the horror of the war in their very souls must somehow find a way to live with what amounts to the most awful knowledge.”

The second prize of 30,000 Euro was awarded to:

* Abdellah Hammoudi (Morocco): Une saison à la Mecque. Récit de pèlerinage, Seuil, Paris, 2004 [A Season in Mecca. Account of a Pilgrimage]. The Moroccan anthropologist, Abdellah Hammoudi who teaches at Princeton, decides at the age of 50 to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca. His aim is, on the one hand, as an ethnologist, to describe the central ritual of Islam, while at the same time – despite being a self-described secular Muslim – to explore the spiritual dimension of this experience. Une saison à la Mecque is both a travelogue and a study of the historical, social, economic and psychological aspects of Muslim society that are connected with the “great hajj”.

The third prize of 20,000 Euro went to:

* Riverbend (Iraq): Baghdad Burning. Girl Blog from Iraq, The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, New York, 2005. Published in the UK by Marion Boyars Publishers, London, 2005. Riverbend, a young Iraqi woman, writes an Internet diary, using a pseudonym. Her commanding gift for observation, her intelligence and her extraordinary language skills make her account of the life of a normal Iraqi family, which has also been published in book form as Baghdad Burning, one of the most uniquely critical documents of life in this abused country under the conditions of the war and the US military occupation.

The other finalists received prizes in the form of a working residencies in Berlin (endowed by the Goethe-Institut) and handmade watches by the company Nomos.

They are:

* Carolin Emcke (Germany): Von den Kriegen. Briefe an Freunde, S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 2004 [Of Wars. Letters to Friends]. Carolin Emcke, a reporter with Der Spiegel, writes in Von den Kriegen. Briefe an Freunde about her work as a war and conflict correspondent in various regions of the world. The personal and reflective tone of this book deeply permeates the panorama of the horrors, as well as the challenges of this job. These diagnoses about the state of the world sensitively help us to experience the every-day life and inner world of a journalist.

* William Langewiesche (USA): The Outlaw Sea. A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime, North Point Press, New York, 2004. Published as The Outlaw Sea. Chaos and Crime on the World’s Oceans by Granta Books, London, 2005. In his book The Outlaw Sea the American reporter William Langewiesche describes the lawlessness and anarchy of the oceans. His stories deal with ship wrecks, sea pirates, disputes over an International Maritime Legislation, the conflict between the shipping companies’ search for profits and ecological necessities, as well as the scrapping of redundant ocean liners.

* Suketu Mehta (India): Maximum City. Bombay Lost and Found, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2004. After years of living in New York, the Indian writer Suketu Mehta decides to move back to his boyhood home of Bombay/Mumbai. Maximum City. Bombay Lost and Found is a multifaceted portrait of the Indian mega-metropolis and describes the art of survival in the midst of urban chaos. The author meets rural migrants and street kids, gangsters and policemen, film stars and transvestites, diamond traders and those seeking redemption. His book describes the horrors and wonders of this urban behemoth that straddles the archaic and the modern.

* Ricardo Uceda (Peru): Muerte en el pentagonito. Los cementerios secretos del Ejército Peruano, Editorial Planeta, Bogotá, 2004 [Death in the Little Pentagon. The Secret Killing Fields of the Peruvian Army]. The Peruvian journalist Ricardo Uceda immerses himself in the still suppressed recent history of Peru and investigates a secret story of the Peruvian army. Muerte en el Pentagonito is a work of empirical research, based on many eye-witness accounts of the dirty war between the Shining Path revolutionary guerrilla organisation and the Peruvian army in the early 1980s. With its disturbing exposure, the book is part of the attempt in many Latin American countries to critically reconstruct the history of the past few decades.

Excerpts from the nominated texts are published in German in the current issue of Lettre International, Nr. 70.

The winners were announced on Saturday 15th October in Berlin at an award ceremony with 500 international guests from literature, art, culture, media, politics and diplomacy (including thirteen ambassadors). The evening’s key note speaker was the Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist, who in his speech “The Power of Truth” (here) discussed the ethics, responsibility and influence of the art of reportage in the context of the history of colonial policy in Africa. The South African writer Breyten Breytenbach and the speaker of the jury Isabel Hilton were the presenters of the ceremony. The annual Lettre Ulysses Award was initiated in 2003 by the cultural journal Lettre International in association with the Aventis Foundation. The Goethe-Institut is a partner of the project.

The prize has a total endowment of 100,000 Euro, as well as working residencies in Berlin and other prizes. The aim of the award is to bring the outstanding achievements of literary reportage to international attention and to support its authors both materially and symbolically.

The members of the jury represent nine of the world’s largest language groups and thus guarantee that a wide range of languages and cultures are considered. 
The members of the 2005 jury were: Svetlana Alexievitch (Belarus), Gamal Al Ghitany (Egypt), Mark Danner (USA), Isabel Hilton (Great Britain), Lung Yingtai (Taiwan), Pankaj Mishra (India), Anne Nivat (France), Sergio Ramírez (Nicaragua), Pedro Rosa Mendes (Portugal), Ilija Trojanow (Germany).

Further information on the nominated texts, the award and the jury is available on the website: www.lettre-ulysses-award.org


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"I consider myself to be a detective of otherness: other cultures, other ways of thinking, other patterns of behavior. I am a detective of an unknown, understood in a positive way, an unknown, with which I would like to come in contact, in order to understand it. It is all about the question of how I can describe reality in a new and adequate way. Sometimes this type of writing is called non-fictional writing. I would rather call it creative non-fictional writing."Ryszard Kapuscinski (ceremonial speaker 2003)