Mozambican author João Paulo Borges Coelho on Friday highlighted his second place in the 2022 Oceanos (Oceans) Portuguese-Language Literature Prize as a way of reaching more readers, after the announcement of the prize was made for the first time in his country.
“The value I see is mainly the visibility it gives and the possibility of reaching more readers, which is the second part of literature, which complements writing,” said the writer and historian, author of the 2021 novel “Museu da Revolução” (Museum of the Revolution), in which characters from different places converge on Mozambique, told Lusa.
“The book does not have a theme, they are themes that are linking into each other” addressing the history of the country, its connections to other geographies and identities, he explained.
He did not expect to win, he said, because literature “is not something that can be compared in objective terms” and because in the 2022 Oceanos award – in which 2,452 works were in competition – “the latitude is great” in terms of style and there is a succession of jury decisions on the way to the final.
“It is not something that is objectively expected to happen,” he said, speaking in the amphitheatre of the Brazil Mozambique Cultural Centre where the prize was announced this year.
Borges Coelho’s work was the runner-up in a competition in which the jury chose in first place the chronicle “Líbano Labirinto” (Labyrinth Lebanon) by Portuguese writer and journalist Alexandra Lucas Coelho and, in third place, “O som do roido da onça” (The sound of the jaguar gnawing), a novel by Brazil’s Micheliny Verunschk that recalls the story of two indigenous children kidnapped in Brazil in the 19th century, and which was the winner of this year’s Jabuti Prize in the Literary Novel category.
Isabel Lucas, the journalist whos is curator of the prize, said that the choice of Maputo to host this year’s announcement was “a stimulus for publishers, writers and also for those who have the power to facilitate policies of circulation of books and authors in this language.
“It is very difficult for books to circulate between different Portuguese-language countries,” she said, citing the fact that most of the prize’s finalists “are only published in one country.”
Mozambique is one of those cases, Lucas pointed out: “When I arrive here and talk to several publishers who tell me that anyone who sells two hundred books in Mozambique is a best-seller, that gives us an idea of the difficulties in making books circulate.”
In this context, the Oceanos award represents “more than a prize” and aims to be “a conversation so that the Portuguese language is less strange in the countries where it is written and made.”
It was a coincidence, she said, that there was a prize-winning author from the country where the announcement was made, along with with a cultural programme and conversations between authors – an itinerary that the organisation hopes to repeat in other countries in future years.
In Maputo, Borges Coelho is already preparing another book, in a “continuous work, every day”, he told Lusa.
“I have another project that may appear in this next year,” he said, without giving details. “It is not that I want to hide it, but I am still not very clear of how it is going to be.”
The members of the jury for the final of the 2022 Oceans Prize, who read and evaluated the 10 shortlisted works in order to choose the three winners, were professors, writers, essayists, curators, critics and journalists Cristhiano Aguiar, Guilherme Gontijo Flores, Joselia Aguiar and Júlia de Carvalho Hansen, from Brazil, Artur Bernardo Minzo, from Mozambique, and Ana Cristina Leonardo and Helena Vasconcelos, from Portugal.
The total value of the prize is 250,000 Brazilian reais (€45,300 at current exchange rates), of which 120,000 reais will go to the first place winner, 80,000 to the second and 50,000 for the third.
The Oceanos prize is organised under Brazil’s Culture Incentive Law, by the Special Secretariat of Culture of the Ministry of Tourism of Brazil, and is sponsored by that country’s Banco Itaú and by Portugal’s Directorate-General of Books, Archives and Libraries, as well as by Itaú Cultural, Cabo Verde’s Ministry of Culture and Creative Industries and the Bibliographic Fund of the Portuguese Language, with institutional support from the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries (CPLP).