The Mozambican novelist and poet Mia Couto is the winner of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the biennial award that’s often referred to as the “American Nobel.”
“Mia Couto” is the nom de plume of the writer António Emílio Leite Couto, born in Mozambique in 1955. He published his first novel, "Terra Sonâmbula" (Sleepwalking Land) in 1992. The novel unfolds during Mozambique’s 16 year civil war and uses “magic realism to turn its harsh reality into an exceptionally beautiful nightmare,” the New York Times wrote in 2006, when the novel was published in English by the British house Serpent’s Tail.
Couto, 58, was the first African author to receive the Latin Union Award of Romance Languages and also won Brazil's prestigious Camões Prize for Literature in 2013. Two of Couto’s novels have been made into feature films, according to the Portuguese American Journal.
The Neustadt prize is awarded by the University of Oklahoma and the journal World Literature Today. “Mia Couto is trying to lift the yoke of colonialism from a culture by reinvigorating its language,” Robert Con Davis-Undiano, director of World Literature Today, said in a statement. “A master of Portuguese prose, he wants to lift that burden one word, one sentence, and one narrative at a time, and in this endeavor he has few if any peers.”
Couto’s first book was a poetry collection published in 1983. He also edited two literary journals during Mozambique’s struggle for independence. Today, political violence is once again sweeping through the African country, which is said to be on the verge of a new civil war. Cuoto told the Lusa news agency (link in Portuguese) that the award “coincides with a time of trouble and worry in Mozambique and, in particular, for my family, which has also been the subject of threats.”
Couto will receive a $50,000 prize and a silver eagle feather.