History of Cultures and Gender Fluidity Wins €50,000 Libris Book Prize
Mariken Heitman won the Netherlands’ most prestigious book prize, Libris Literatuur Prijs, for her novel Wormman.
Heitman was a surprise winner of a shortlist that also included Dutch-Ukrainian writer Lisa Weeda, whose novel Aleksandra examines the post-war history of her grandmother’s homeland.
Wormman (“Worm Man”) connects various themes, including the development of agriculture and gender identity through the story of Elke, who wants to grow more diverse crops by reintroducing a wild species of pea.
This is the second novel by Heitman, a biology graduate from Utrecht University who works as a gardener when not writing. “Weeding is very soothing,” she told Nieuwsuur.
The prize, televised annually on the late night newscast, is worth €50,000 and is invariably a huge boost to the winning author’s profile and sales.
The jury, chaired by Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, praised Heitman for his “great intelligence, literary mastery and the courage not to choose a conventional narrative”.
Asked after the presentation, she said, “I see parallels between how people shape cultures and how we shape each other, and I wanted to know if the process could be reversed.
“What I did in my book was to have an image of the woman she [Elke] has never constantly become its shadow. It’s kind of an internalization of all the comments and observations we see in the media about how women are supposed to behave.
“A small example is that she is constantly referred to as a ‘young man’ when she goes to the bakery, which makes her wonder why these categories are so rigid.”
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