I am delighted to be here with you today at the Reykjavík International Literary Festival to present the Halldór Laxness International Literary Prize.
This is the second time we present this award, one that acknowledges internationally acclaimed authors for their contribution to “a renewal of the narrative tradition”, which was the reasoning behind Halldór Laxness winning the Nobel Prize in 1955.
Let me start off by saying that this event brings me great joy. We are gathered here to celebrate literature and all that literature brings us. We are deeply appreciative to the novelists who with their depth of thought, perception, and imagination, create stories that have the power to enrich our lives and in many cases, shape our culture and by extension, our societes.
I now, I am proud to present the Halldór Laxness International Literary Prize to Elif Shafak, the British-Turkish novelist. She is a bestselling author worldwide and her work has been translated into 55 languages.
I will now read the words of Ian McEwan, who is on the selection committee for the awards and winner of the Halldór Laxness Literary Prize in 2019:
„Elif Shafak is a unique and powerful voice in world literature - unique because she marries moral and political force with beautiful prose and an instinctive understanding of the fabulous intricacies of the narrative art. She is an expert welder of the hyper-real with the actual, as in her superb novel, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World. She understands love in the most generous sense, and she knows all about the blind power of history in private lives. Shafak's invitation to men to play an active role in the feminist project subtly informs her most intimate and tender scenes. Her luminous, magically real novels bear the hallmark of deep intellectual reach; she's unfailingly wise about the human heart and courageous in bringing us face to face with the reckless cruelty of social injustice.“
Elif Shafak has not only given countless readers wonderful stories, she is a hugely important advocate for others, using her voice to give voices to those who have none. Throughout her distinguished career, she has been a strong advocate for survivors of gender-based violence as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community. She has highlighted the importance of taking care of mental health and has written about the unique pressures of our modern times where we are constantly bombarded with information.
Elif Shafak´s contribution to the discussion of our times couldn´t be more relevant and important. In the past years we have seen a setback in womens rights worldwide, their reproductive health is under threat and we´ve seen how difficult it is for women to find justice in the far too widespread epidemic of gender-based violence. During the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a surge in cases of sexual and gender-based violence, all around the world. We have also seen alarming new laws put in place in countries around the globe that weaken the protection of LGBTQ+ people.
Elif Shafaks activism through her work as a writer makes a profound impact. Through her stories, with her mastery of language and images, with the deep empathy which she draws her characters, she reaches people in the way only great literature can, through their minds and into their hearts.
Literature gives us a incomporable way of appreciating other people´s circumstances; their living conditions, their inner lives, their relationships, their phsyches, the human condition if you will. We get access to people´s inner most thoughts, their doubts, their strengths and flaws, we are allowed to explore their motives and understand what drives them. And with this all comes deeper understanding of our neighbors, our loved ones, of all our fellow people.
I read a bit of literature every day. It doesn´t matter how busy I am. It might be a poem, a few chapters in a crime novel, a bit of a memoir, I really value and frankly need this glimpse into another world, a place where I can just observe, appreciate, and then take something valuable back with me to my daily life. A deeper understanding of people is one of the obvious things literature gives us, and with that comes more empathy and tolerance. We all need that, not in the least us politicians who´s job in its essence is about people and how to best create the conditions for them to have the best lives possible.
Elif Shafak, congratulations on the Halldór Laxness International Literary Prize. I hope you have a lovely stay here in Iceland and I hope to read many more of your fantastic stories that help make us better people and our societies better places to live.