Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Reactions 2003

Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaja was awarded the Lettre Ulysses Award, worth 50,000 Euros. This is the first time the prize has been given. It aims to focus attention on literary journalism, against the background of the processes of globalization. In the future, outstanding pieces of reportage from all over the world are to be distinguished annually: texts that search beyond “what is reflected in the massmedia”.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6 October 2003



The Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage was presented in the center of Berlin. It is the first award of its kind, and was given for the best book of literary journalism. The prize is part of an initiative by the magazine Lettre International, which has provided a formidable impulse in the promotion of serious journalism, in these times of wretchedness, poverty, cholera and garbage.

El País, 6 October 2003



The South African writer Breyten Breytenbach moderated the evening’s program as though he was born to the task. He invited the renowned reporter on Africa, Ryszard Kapuscinski, on to the stage with the joke that the Africans had only lent Kapuscinski to the Polish, whom he described as a missionary and translator who has brought greater understanding to the world.

Der Tagesspiegel, 6 October 2003



There is still no “world audience” as such. The glaring spotlights of international yet Western-dominated media such as BBC or CNN move around quickly, with the result that background information is never brought to light. Prominent European or American newspapers can afford foreign correspondents, and open their pages to writers from all over the world. Nevertheless, their readers remain limited, nationally and linguistically. While the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage is a sort of journalistic prize, it is in fact more a form of literary recognition, a Nobel Prize for political non-fiction.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 October 2003



The task facing the eleven jurors was not easy: months of reading carefully-translated literary works from all over the world, in a process that aimed to transcend linguistic and cultural boundaries. Then, the jurors—all authors well acquainted with the realm of literary journalism—had to agree upon three pieces to which they hoped to draw world-wide attention.

Público, 6 October 2003



It began with Herodotus. The Greek investigated and described his world up to what was then considered to be the final frontier, so his work is considered to be the classic model for literary reportage. A period of 2,500 years elapsed before the first international Lettre Ulysses Award—inspired by a Günter Grass speech in honor of Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul—was developed for this genre, which lies between journalism and travel writing.

Berliner Zeitung, 6 October 2003



In many ways, Lettre International is a reliable center of gravitation for quality, and the Lettre Ulysses Award should essentially be about giving a prize for the best pieces of reportage. The first prize went to the already highly decorated Anna Politkovskaja for her reporting on Chechnya. Her works on the acts of punishment of marauding soldiers against the civilian population don’t only shock us because of the “what” but also because of the “how”. In the presentation of the complex mishmash of dependency and fear (even on the part of the victimizers), observation is converted into a style of its own – to witness is to depict.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 7 October 2003



One of the foremost practitioners of literary journalism, the Polish writer and journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, argued that the genre began with the historian Herodotus. If so, it sets at least one record: in more than 2,000 years, it is one of the few written forms that had neither been widely defined nor publicly celebrated with a prize. This has now been rectified. The winner of the first Lettre Ulysses Award was the Russian writer Anna Politkovskaja, for her second book on the war in Chechnya. Her writing is both more powerful and more durable than any number of news reports or television images. Good reportage is more than a recitation of events: it brings the qualities of a good novelist to bear on reality, without breaking its contract with fact.

New Statesman, 13 October 2003



We are only capable of progressing in life when we weigh our prejudices against reality, and we can learn—through our encounter with the “other” —how to recognize who we are. This is the best way to describe the authors gathered in Berlin; authors who had the courage to challenge themselves and us. The seven nominated texts tell stories that would otherwise not be heeded, describing horror and injustice in an effective and forceful manner. Among the authors’ themes are Chinese dissidents-in-exile, Somali refugees, poachers in Mongolia and rebels in Chechnya. It is here where the people, whose clamour is normally not loud enough to be heard, are given a voice.

Danish Broadcasting, 11 October 2003



If you are passionate about journalism and the written word, if newspaper columns are too short for you, if you hate it when you reach the end of a good piece of reportage, then you will surely be interested in the Lettre Ulysses Award for literary reportage web site. The list of finalists is a good catalogue of quality journalism.

Periodistas 21, 28 November 2003



Who doesn’t want to be around when important people are celebrating other important people? And all the more when it’s a premiere, and an extremely successful one at that. The Lettre Ulysses Award for literary journalism was given for the first time: an international prize that is the only one of its kind, to be awarded annually in the future … Not for nothing is literary journalism known as the best of all the journalistic disciplines.

Frankfurter Rundschau, 6 October 2003



Reportage arises from a curious journalist’s journey, which is then reported back to the readers at home. The goal can be defined in geographic terms, but also in terms of the socio-cultural borders of common daily life. In either case, the reporter is a journalist who leaves behind the modernized, technology-based editorial nest in order to fulfill the hunger readers have for authentic testimony about distant or foreign lives. This type of journalist is like an artisan of the communications industry, who promises to not view the world with the tunnel vision imposed by professional news editors, but instead to tell a story that is understandable to the public. Readers and reporters alike are too involved in this world to be able to act in it as mere observers. But an exchange of feelings can take place, especially when the reporter avoids black and white explications and does not hide existing contradictions.

NZZ Online, 16 January 2004



In our era of the tense process of globalization, it is important that we not only take changes seriously in order to better describe and understand them, but that we also see beyond stereotypes. Shocking events in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. make plain just how deceptive the level of supposed public awareness really is. The Lettre Ulysses Award seeks out writers whose inquisitiveness and courage bind good journalism together with the art of writing.

Arte-TV.com, 4 October 2003



We are in the Tipi, a tent which today is hosting 500 guests: journalists, writers, editors, and representatives of diverse international literary magazines. The magazine Lettre International has just awarded a weighty prize: 100,000 Euros for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. It is a prize that is a stimulus for good quality journalism; journalism that synthesizes rigorously researched information and the careful use of [literary] forms.

Radio de la Plata, 4 October 2003



Prizes for national or language-related literary journalism already exist. But an international prize? This is something new. The result is impressive: The writings show a cross-section of the most important societal transformations world-wide: from Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, to the consequences of the 11th of September. And journalists can always be found who individually go to great lengths to report on a topic.

Radio Deutsche Welle, 6 October 2003



A ‘j’accuse’ by the courageous Russian journalist, directed at indifference and egoism on a world scale, a testimony to competent and highly ethical journalism.

Wiesbadener Kurier, 8 October 2003



An absolutely exquisite ceremony, nothing of that diploma presentation type of atmosphere which I’ve seen all too often. Breyten Breytenbach is a polyglot and composed masters of ceremony.

Berliner Morgenpost, 19 October 2003



On the 4th of October, the Lettre Ulysses Award was presented in Berlin, the long-awaited international prize for literary journalism. The ceremony united 450 guests, and included the great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, and Breyten Breytenbach as master of ceremonies. The Lettre Ulysses Award seeks to give literary journalism and its writers a world-wide audience. With the prize, the organizers of the event hope to stimulate public interest in, and make the public aware of, the importance and long tradition of this journalistic genre.

Periódico Zócalo, November 2003



The Lettre Ulysses Award Ceremony in Berlin was held in a giant marquee close to the new Federal Chancellery. In addition to Politkovskaja, Lettre's second literary prize, worth 30,000 Euro, went to Somali-born author Nuruddin Farah for a book entitled, ”Yesterday, Tomorrow: Voices from the Somali Diaspora.”

International Press Service, 25 October 2003


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"Censorship has many sides. One is the ability to see and write about, and the other side is the willingness of people to listen. Over the last years, there has been an unwillingness to listen and to understand the other. It’s another paradox of globalisation that we think we see the whole world, but actually we listen to a tribal message, a message from home."Isabel Hilton (jury member 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006)