PEN America, a non-profit that recognises work in literature and human rights, announced early this morning that it will award "two monumental career achievement honors" of in its presentation ceremony on 2 March. Contemporary Hindi writer, the 87-year-old Vinod Kumar Shukla, is one of the two recipients, and he will receive the 2023 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. The other career achievement honour, the 2023 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award, will be presented to Chicago-based feminist poet-playwright and educator Erika Dickerson-Despenza.
Announcing this on his social media, writer and musician Amit Chaudhuri, one of the jury members, tweeted that previous winners of the PEN Nabokov Prize for lifetime achievement in international literature “include Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Anne Carson, Edna O’Brien, Adonis.”
Some of Shukla's populare novels include Deewar Mein Ek Khidki Rehti Thi (which won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1999) and Naukar Ki Kameez. Shukla has also had his work appear in various international literary journals like Granta and n+1. Currently, a new book of Shukla's poetry in translation is forthcoming in the US.
In 2021, translator and academic Satti Khanna brought a new novel of Shukla's into English – it was about a forest that goes mute with grief, and was titled The Silent Place. In 2019, an English translation of his short stories, titled Blue Is like Blue, by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Sara Rai won the Atta Galatta Bangalore Literature Festival Prize. In 2020, the same book went on to receive the Mathrubhumi Book of the Year Prize.
Vinod Kumar Shukla has won the PEN Nabokov Prize for lifetime achievement in international literature. Past winners include Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Anne Carson, Edna O’Brien, Adonis. An honour to work on the jury with Maaza Mengiste and Roya Hakakian.https://t.co/5CHWLqpSEJ— Amit Chaudhuri (@AmitChaudhuri) February 28, 2023
According to a release by PEN America, “The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature is conferred annually to a living author whose body of work is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship."
The three-member jury included Iranian American Jewish journalist Roya Hakakian and Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste in addition to Chaudhuri. In contextualising the award for Shukla's work, they wrote: “Shukla’s prose and poetry are marked by acute, often defamiliarizing, observation. The voice that emerges is that of a deeply intelligent onlooker; a daydreamer struck occasionally by wonder. Writing for decades without the recognition he deserves, Shukla has created literature that changes how we understand the modern."
In March 2022, Shukla came into the spotlight when a video of him went viral on social media. In the video, the writer talked about how he was paid very little by way of royalties by big Hindi publishers like Vani Prakashan and Rajkamal Prakashan – he claimed that Vani Prakashan had paid him only ₹1.35 lakh in over 25 years and that from Rajkamal Prakshan, he receives only around ₹14,000 annually for six books. Ashok Maheshwari, the MD of Rajkamal Prakshan had, a the time, come out with an assurance that the issues will be ironed out.
The 2023 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature wrote that through this award to Shukla, they are recognising "a writer as well as a tradition, or traditions, of anomalousness in literature without which we cannot fully grasp our history or inhabit our present.”