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St. Louis Literary Award goes to Israeli author David Grossman

Author David Grossman
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Author David Grossman

Internationally recognized authorDavid Grossman returns to St. Louis this week for the first time in 30 years. And 30 years ago, his visit to St. Louis marked a different milestone for the author.

“It was the first time I opened my mouth in English and I realized that I’m able more or less to communicate. Until then I was sure I could only do it in Hebrew,” he said.

When Grossman relates the story, he ruefully emphasizes his past desire for the presentation to magically translate itself during his flight to St. Louis. That hope dissolved when the author found himself behind a podium, staring at his text in Hebrew, translating the presentation on the fly. 

Now Grossman is one of the most recognized Israeli authors in the world and has been short-listed for the Nobel Prize. The writer is in town to accept a local honor: the St. Louis Literary Awardand discuss his work at a presentation on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.. The award is presented by the Saint Louis University Library Associates. Previous award winners include W.H. Auden, Joyce Carol Oates and Tennessee Williams.

The writer’s work often addresses “the small domestic minutia of life in Israel” but he says there’s much that is relatable in the work to a St. Louis native. For him, the details of life relate on a universal scale.

“The more you talk about your square meter, the more you dig in your backyard, it becomes international,” he said, “If you want to be international, it never works.”

The university's associate dean of libraries, Patrick McCarthy, hopes this year’s event helps the award move out of the academy and into the city. To this end, organizers are holding the ceremony at The Sheldon, 3648 Washington Blvd., in Grand Center and tapped local Jewish organizations to garner interest in the event. To register for the free event, go to the Library Associates website.

“This award and this event is a reminder of the value of reading and that’s certainly something we want to share with the whole St. Louis community,” said McCarthy.

For McCarthy, the award is a chance to remind St. Louis to step back from the instant demands of technology and daily life and find sanctuary in the one remaining place for self-reflection and analytical thought: books.