A Kindle at the Bachmann Prize

At the moment, the Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur (Days of German Language Literature) are going on in the city of Klagenfurt in Austria, where they will conclude with the awarding of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize tomorrow. Basically, the Bachmann Prize competition is a massive public workshop session, where young writers read their text and a group of critics and established writers proceeds to discuss and critique the texts, all in public and on live TV. The Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur is a pretty big event for the German language literary world. I wrote a bit about last year’s competition – and a lot of craft, POV and linguistics neepery – in my personal blog.

I try to catch the Bachmann prize readings and discussions on TV, whenever possible, because hey – I’m a writer, which means that craft discussions and the critiquing of other people’s texts is interesting and even fun, though I usually disagree with the jury’s verdict. In fact, if I flat out hate a text, it mostly means that this one will win. I accurately predicted the last three winners by this method.

This year, however, I spotted something at the Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur that I would never have expected to see there, namely a Kindle. For you see, the Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur are the bastion of German literary fiction in the tradition of the Gruppe 47, which does not exactly mean that it’s the most progressive event ever, though Rainald Goetz famously caused a minor scandal by cutting his own face during his reading in 1983 and bleeding onto his manuscript. Still, spotting a Kindle at a Bachmann prize reading is an event of comparable impact to a self-injuring author bleeding onto his manuscript.

Alas, the Kindle was not in the hands of one of the contestants, but in those of Austrian American writer and literary scholar and Holocaust survivor Ruth Klüger who held the so-called Klagenfurt speech this year. And since Ruth Klüger divides her time between California and Göttingen, seeing a Kindle in her hands is not quite such a surprise as it would have been in the hands of a writer who exclusively lives in Europe.

This is another advantage of e-readers, by the way, which is frequently overlooked. They’re ideal for public readings, because you don’t have to bother with flipping pages. When I do a public reading again, I may well borrow Ms. Klüger’s idea to use a Kindle.

Though in the run-up to this year’s Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur there was also the usual discussion about the state of German literature. This year, a particular concern was whether writers could make a living, since there apparently is a widening income gap in German literature between the bestsellers and the rest. Here is an article. There is a video as well, in which a young writer flat out states that “No one can make a living writing”. To be fair, towards the end of the video, the bookseller interviewed says that the internet offers a chance for young writers, so there is some attempt to address the new situation. Nonetheless, indie publishing is either not on the radar of these people at all or viewed as a purely American phenomenon. Neither are the German writers who make a living writing – the various genre and Romanheft writers – on the radar of these people, probably because they don’t write literary fiction. Frank Schätzing, author of SFnal thrillers, briefly appears in the video – as one of those evil 1 percenters of German literature who make a living writing.

There is also a video of an interview with Burkhard Spinnen, president of the Bachmann prize jury. Again, he says that one shouldn’t expect to make a living writing and cautions against “writing to market” (which I agree with to a certain degree) and also says that one should write for the love of it rather than for money (agree, though the money is nice as well). It’s not a bad interview and I quite like Burkhard Spinnen, though I still find the lack of any positive opinion regarding the new opportunities for young writers today troubling.

My Mom called me yesterday and asked me if I’d seen the report and the Brukhard Spinnen interview on TV. “They were talking about writers”, she said, “And that man from the Bachmann prize was there, too. And they all said that one should write for love, because hardly any writers can make a living at it.”

“Well, the sort of writer who wins the Bachmann prize usually doesn’t”, I said, “But I bet you that those people who write Romanhefte do.”

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