Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding

The Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding is one of the most prestigious literature prizes in Germany. It has been awarded annually since 1994 and comes with prize money of 20,000 euros. The prize committee includes the Free State of Saxony, the City of Leipzig, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels e.V. (The German Publishers and Booksellers Association) and Leipziger Messe. Cooperation partner is the Federal Agency for Civid Education.

The prize has been awarded to Maria Stepanova at the opening ceremony of the Leipzig Book Fair on the evening of 26 April 2023 at the Gewandhaus Leipzig.

1st Place Winner Maria Stepanova (image source: © Ekko von Schwichow/Suhrk)

The Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding 2023 will be presented to Maria Stepanova

Maria Stepanova, a Jewish author from Russia who was born in Moscow in 1972 and is currently living in exile in Germany, will behas been awarded the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding 2023 for her volume of poetry entitled "Mädchen ohne Kleider" (Girls Without Clothes). These cycles of poems with their melodious narratives constitute an impressive example of how an attentive awareness of history can be captured in modern poetry. The poems were published by Suhrkamp in May 2022. The highly acclaimed translation from Russian is by Olga Radetzkaja. The final statement from the jury also refers to the poetry collection "Der Körper kehrt wieder" (The Body Returns) and the novel "Nach dem Gedächtnis" (In Memory of Memory), which were both published in 2020.

Ein Portrait von Ilma Rakusa. Sie hat schulterlange schwarze Haare mit grauen Strähnchen und einem Pony. Sie trägt ein schwarzes Top. Im Hintergrund sieht man Blätter und einen angeschnittenen Baumstamm.
Ilma Rakusa (image source: © Giorgio von Arb)

She will be introduced by Swiss literary scholar, author and translator Ilma Rakusa.

Statement from the jury:

The Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding 2023 goes to the Russian poet Maria Stepanova for her unconditionally poetic approach to viewing the world. Her work is firmly rooted in the present and in the Russian language of poets such as Alexander Puschkin, Ossip Mandelstam and Marina Zwetajewa, while also providing a space where one can hear the echoes of world literature and feel the presence of Dante, Goethe and Walt Whitman, alongside Ezra Pound, Inger Christensen and Anne Carson.

In her cycle 'Girls Without Clothes' from the volume of poetry of the same name, she seeks to protect the female body from the imbalance in power between observer and object. In the series of poems entitled 'Kleider ohne uns' (Clothes Without Us), she playfully draws on lyric forms to create a perfect wreath of sonnets that portray clothing as a life code. In her cycle 'Bist du Luft' (If Air), she enters the kingdom of the dead just as she did in her magnificent novel 'In Memory of Memory', where she intertwined her own family history with a retrospective look at the reign of Stalin and the fall of the Soviet Union. Her lyrical self speaks to an open grave and becomes immersed in the landscape of her childhood. Deep in the earth lie the battlefields of the 20th century and the bones of the dead.

Alongside her prose and essays, Stepanova's poetry addresses the subject of remembrance. She follows the tracks of the unnamed dead and uncovers untold events while taking ironic turns and avoiding the use of any kind of war cries. Although Maria Stepanova writes about the depths of humanity in her poems, she also uses her language to provide great hope by giving a literary voice to non-imperial Russia that deserves to be heard right across Europe.

Critical and Fair: The Jury

  • Skadi Jennicke (Mayor for Culture of the City of Leipzig)
  • Michael Krüger (author, publisher, translator, Munich)
  • Johannes Riis (publisher, Copenhagen)
  • Elisabeth Ruge (author, publisher, literary agent, Berlin)
  • Daniela Strigl (essayist, critic, lecturer, Vienna)

Previous Award Winners

  • 2022: Karl-Markus Gauss (Austria)
  • 2021: Johny Pitts (Great Britain)
  • 2020: László Földényi (Hungary)
  • 2019: Masha Gessen (USA)
  • 2018: Åsne Seierstad (Norway)
  • 2017: Mathias Énard (France)
  • 2016: Heinrich August Winkler (Germany)
  • 2015: Mircea Cărtărescu (Romania)
  • 2014: Pankaj Mishra (India)
  • 2013: Klaus-Michael Bogdal (Germany)
  • 2012: Ian Kershaw und Timothy Snyder (Great Britain and USA)
  • 2011: Martin Pollack (Austria)
  • 2010: György Dalos (Germany)
  • 2009: Karl Schlögel (Germany)
  • 2008: Geert Mak (Netherlands)
  • 2007: Gerd Koenen (Germany) und Michail Ryklin (Russia)
  • 2006: Juri Andruchowytsch (Ukraine)
  • 2005: Slavenka Drakulić (Croatia), lebt in Stockholm, Wien und Sovinjak (Croatia)
  • 2004: Dževad Karahasan (Bosnia & Herzegovina), lebt in Graz und Sarajevo
    (Recognition Award: Gábor Csordás, Hungary)
  • 2003: Hugo Claus (Belgium)
    (Recognition Award: Barbara Antkowiak, Germany)
  • 2002: Bora Ćosić (Croatia), lebt in Rovinj (Croatia) und Berlin
    (Recognition Award: Ludvik Kundera, Czech Republic)
  • 2001: Claudio Magris (Italy)
    (Recognition Award: Norbert Randow, Germany)
  • 2000: Hanna Krall (Poland)
    (Recognition Award: Peter Urban, Germany)

Detailed information on the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding, previous prize winners, the board of trustees and the panel of judges can be found at www.leipzig.de/buchpreis


Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding
c/o City of Leipzig, Dezernat Kultur
Karin Rolle-Bechler

Phone: +49 341 123-4207
Email: buchpreis@leipzig.de
Website: www.leipzig.de/buchpreis

Media contact:

For review copies and appointments with the award winner before the start of the Leipzig Book Fair:
Nicole Herrschmann
Suhrkamp Verlag
Phone: +49 30 740744-292
Email: herrschmann@suhrkamp.de