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Greek Author Christos Ikonomou Wins US’ Chowdhury Prize in Literature

Christos Ikonomou
Greek author Christos Ikonomou’s dystopian tales set within the political and economic culture of austerity in Greece and recount its devastating effect on working people won the Chowdhury Prize in Literature, in the US, on Tuesday. Credit: Julia Puga

Greek author Christos Ikonomou won the inaugural Chowdhury Prize in Literature, an international prize for writers — and the first literary award of its kind on the US West Coast — on Tuesday.

Born in Athens in 1970, Ikonomou has published four collections of short stories, including “Something Will Happen, You’ll See,” which won Greece’s prestigious Best Short-Story Collection State Award and was the most reviewed Greek book of 2011.

His books have been translated into more than 12 languages. “Good Will Come from The Sea” was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Awards 2020 and the London Hellenic Prize.

Ikonomou’s dystopian stories, which are set within the political and economic culture of austerity in Greece, recount its devastating effect on working people.

Ikonomou’s Chowdhury Prize win a unanimous decision

Chowdhury Prize administrator David Ulin, associate professor of English at USC Dornsife and former Los Angeles Times book editor and book critic, said the jury’s decision to award Ikonomou the prize was unanimous.

“We thought he was doing remarkable work creatively, and we also thought that his work had a remarkable social component,” Ulin said. “But the most important aspect for us as judges was the power of the writing — the power of the language, the power of the insights, the power of the characters and the conflicts, the intractable nature of what his characters are facing, which is not unrelated to the intractable nature of what all of us, in some way, are facing. All this made us really interested in supporting this writer in what comes next.”

President Sean Decatur of Kenyon College, who was instrumental in establishing the prize, said, “Kenyon’s legacy as a writer’s college is founded on the belief that words have the power to stir human emotions and to inspire a deeper understanding of the world. We are delighted to honor Mr. Ikonomou’s already extraordinary body of work, and also to support his future influence in broadening our perception of the human experience.”

Chowdhury Prize aims to raise awareness of lesser-known international works

Ulin emphasized that part of the purpose of the award is to bring a significant writer to broader public awareness who might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

“The percentage of translated work sold in this country is minuscule,” Ulin said. “For an American audience, he almost certainly has been entirely overlooked. So, for us to be able to bring this work, which is hugely significant, to the attention of readers who I think will benefit from it and to be able to put him in touch with this audience, is an important part of this initiative.”

The prize was awarded by the Department of English at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, in the US, in collaboration with Kenyon College and the Kenyon Review.

Ikonomou will be honored at a gala ceremony to be held at Town and Gown on USC’s University Park campus on April 21, the day before the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books kicks off with its Book Prizes ceremony, which will take place at USC.

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