Marking the 105th anniversary of the Ukrainian linguist and historian of literature George Shevelov, National Literature Museum of Ukraine hosted award ceremony of the Shevelov Prize in Kyiv on December 17. The prize was awarded for the first time since it was founded this year by the Ukrainian Center of PEN International. The venue choice was far from random, too, as Shevelov, the founding father of modern Ukrainian essay, had visited the museum several times.
Vice-president of the Ukrainian Center of PEN International, essayist and journalist Mykola Riabchuk highlighted the prize’s origins. “Situation was ripe for establishing a prize for essayists, and destruction of Shevelov memorial plaque in Kharkiv became the last straw,” Riabchuk explained. “We decided to create something that neither Mykhailo Dobkin nor his hired hooligans would be able to destroy. Thus, this prize is a response to the mayor of Kharkiv, but also a way to recognize high quality of Ukrainian essay writing and, above all, the importance and weight of Shevelov not only as a brilliant scientist, but as a very talented and interesting essayist, too.”
To remind the audience about Shevelov, Riabchuk proposed to watch a fragment of 1993 filmed interview with him. In this interview, the Ukrainian linguist answered, in particular, questions about how he had become an enemy of the people on leaving the Soviet Union and where he dissented from the Communist party line.
Following the film showing, the prize’s chapter secretary, translator Olha Hnatiuk offered a summary of its applications, over 30 all in all and coming from all over Ukraine. In addition to formal criteria, such as compliance with the essay genre requirements and first publication in 2013, the jury described the aesthetic criteria that led them to choose four finalists, instead of just three specified by the prize’s statute. Let us recall that these four were Mykhailo Brynykh, Volodymyr Dibrova, Andrii Portnov, and Taras Prokhasko.
For instance, director of the Kyiv Mohyla Business School Oleksandr Savruk presented Brynykh’s books Musterpieces (sic!) of Ukrainian Literature and Musterpieces of World Literature “Brynykh’s writing can be recognized even with the cover torn off,” he read the jury’s findings. “Language experiments, mixing up the high and low registers, Christian providentialism and Internet memes brought him deserved fame as a skillful juggler of cultural layers and undeserved accusations of undermining the individual. Brynykh, like an experienced bartender, combines expensive ingredients, including works of great classics, wit, watchfulness, and deep thought to create a magnificent literary cocktail.” Savruk also read an excerpt from a book by Brynykh, probably prompting the audience to read it as soon as possible. Brynykh himself was absent from the ceremony as he met with readers in Vinnytsia, and that meeting had been scheduled before the names of the finalists became known, the present were told by a representative of his publisher, the Laurus Publishing House.
Riabchuk presented Dibrova’s Retellings. “Dibrova is a mysterious writer among candidates for the award. He has been writing for 40 years, but no one has seen him, for his texts were not published for the first 20 years, and he has been living in America for the last 20 years... Retellings can be called an example of attentive reading, a very popular approach to text.” Oksana Shchur from Komora Publishers that published Retellings accepted for Dibrova his finalist diploma and Dukh i Litera Publishers’ books that were the jury’s gift to him.
Literary critic Eleonora Solovei introduced Andrii Portnov’s book Histories for Domestic Use, subtitled Essays on Polish-Russian-Ukrainian Triangle of Memory.
“This is an uneasy, annoying or even painful reading,” Solovei noted. “This book is a quality essay collection, characterized by accuracy, adequacy, and correctness... It makes rough edges of the historical narrative into the reader’s own problems.” Managing editor of Krytyka Publishers Andrii Mokrousov continued the trend of the evening and received the award for the absent finalist. He then wanted to read out Portnov’s address, but was overruled by the jury which stated that the finalist diploma ceremony was not over, so the letter reading should be postponed. Thus, the main secret of the ceremony was revealed, but, as it turned out, not completely.
Dukh i Litera’s editor-in-chief Leonid Finberg told the present about the fourth finalist Prokhasko’s book Always the Same. “Prokhasko’s texts are among the best in contemporary Ukrainian culture,” he maintained. “They have it all, including personal responsibility for the present and future as well as paradoxical thinking... His essays are deep reflections of European intellectual who is trying to understand modern life and does so without indulging in postmodern cynicism.” The only finalist who attended the presentation took his diploma without making a speech.