Dutch author Gerda Blees wins the European Union Prize for Literature

Dutch author Gerda Blees wins the European Union Prize for Literature

The jury about her debut novel We Are Light: “an original, moving and rich novel that deserves a large international readership.”
Lotte Bosch

The winners of the 2021 European Union Prize for Literature were selected amongst national shortlists of two to five books. The 2021 edition awards thirteen laureates from the 41 countries participating in this cycle. The winners were announced during a video broadcast on 18 May.

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Announcement video of the winners of the European Union Prize for Literature 2021.
Creative Europe programme 

The purpose of the European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL) is recognising emerging fiction writers from the European Union and beyond. Engaging the 41 countries participating in the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, the Prize celebrates 41 outstanding new literary talents across a cycle of three years.  

Jury report  

About Blees’ novel, the jury stated: “We Are Light is an original, moving and rich novel that deserves a large international readership. It is a very special debut novel, with no fewer than 25 narrators, some of them quite bizarre, such as the smell of an orange or the main character’s dead body. (…) Gerda Blees is a compelling storyteller who writes with forensic precision – and with great humour. We Are Light is gripping from the first page to the last.” 

Debutant Blees 

Gerda Blees, born in 1985, made her literary debut in 2017 with the short story collection Aan doodgaan dachten we niet (We Didn’t Think About Dying). Her first volume of poetry, Dwaallichten (Wandering Lights), appeared the following year.  We Are Light , published by Uitgeverij Podium, is her first novel and received unanimous rave reviews from the Dutch press. It was awarded the Dutch Booksellers’ Award for 2021 and has been nominated for the prestigious Libris Literature Prize.

Multiple narrators 

The book is loosely based on a true story that took place in the city of Utrecht. Four members of a commune stop eating because they have decided that, from now on, they want to live on light and air. The characters in Gerda Blees’ novel each have their own reasons for this extreme decision, which ends up costing the protagonist, Elisabeth, her life. The novel contains 25 chapters with 25 different narrators. Each narrator has a unique and distinct voice and makes an essential contribution to the novel’s complex tapestry.

Later this year, the German and Italian translations will be published. For more information about translations of Dutch literature, visit the online database of the Dutch Foundation for Literature.