January 21, 2013

All your excuses are invalid: the seventy-five year old winner of a prize for emerging writers


One of these authors is your new hero. Here’s a hint: your hero smiles like she means it, and doesn’t wear terrible ties.

The semiannual Akutagawa prize was awarded in Japan this past Wednesday, and this season’s winner was Natsuko Kuroda. The Akutagawa prize, begun in 1935, is awarded for stories published in newspapers or magazines by new or emerging authors. Kuroda is seventy-five years old.

Her story, “ab Sango” (it can be previewed and purchased here) is unusual in that it uses no pronouns for its young principle characters, and is written horizontally across the page from left to right, rather than the standard top to bottom. The result is strange and beautiful, and hints at a genealogy of Popper-esque fairy tale formulae, of mathematics or of sociology, and all of which is given subtle cultural freight by Kuroda’s horizontal lines. But again — because it bears repeating — this intriguing emerging writer is seventy-five years old.

Kuroda is in fact the oldest writer ever to be given the Akutagawa prize, and she is nearly as old as the prize itself. Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the award’s namesake and perhaps Japan’s most celebrated story writer, famously killed himself when he was less than half her current age.

Upon receiving the prize, Kuroda said “Thank you for discovering me while I am still alive” and then probably armwrestled the judges to a standstill because this woman sounds just that awesome.

The Akutagawa prize is given alongside the Naoki prize for popular works in any form by relatively new but established authors. Yeah, the criteria for that one are kind of knotty. That prize was given to two authors this seasonRyutaro Abe and Ryo Asai, the latter of whom is only twenty-three, a detail I would care more about if he hadn’t had to stand on the stage beside a seventy-five year old emerging author.

Do you think Philip Roth feels like a wimp about now?


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.