The Albertine Prize: Proving Literature Matters

Last week, I received an invitation to attend the cocktail reception and ceremony for the inaugural Albertine Prize. This marked my first attendance at a literary award event. You might say that I was excited.

I’ve described the refined, serene, and daresay magical qualities of Albertine in a past post. I’ll not bore anyone with a refrain. If you love books and literature, do yourself a favor and visit Albertine.

The Albertine Prize was awarded to the “best” translated work of contemporary French literature. Hoping to generate interest in the award and French literature, Albertine compiled a shortlist of books and posed the question to readers: which is the best book? Through a series of online voting, Bardo or Not Bardo by novelist Antoine Volodine was selected as the winner. Both Voldoine and his translator J. T. Mahany received awards at the event.

Albertine Winners
J. T. Mahany and Antoine Volodine, winners of the first Albertine Prize (Courtesy of Albertine).

 Before the winners’ speeches, Albertine Prize co-chair François Busnel praised Albertine (it’s hard not to) and described his love for literature and bookstores. Busnel noted that he can walk the aisles of a bookstore, pick up a volume, and immediately enter another life and another world. At a bookstore, he can enter conversations with characters and authors through literature.

Busnel’s comments stayed in my thoughts. Bookstores are more than simple retail establishments. Bookstores serve as doorways to other cultures, ideas, and lives. While passing through those doorways, readers meet fellow-travelers, that is, bookstore clerks and other readers. They converse with them, furthering their individual and shared journeys.

The Albertine Prize ceremony was a wonderful night. The host provided French wine and champagne. A crowd of sharp, sophisticated readers mingled. Many conversations moved seamlessly between English and French. When the speakers took the stage, everyone fell silent. Nothing but literature mattered.

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