Built on the legacy of H.C. Andersen
While vacationing in Spain, former committee member Benny Nybo coincidentally read a book by the author Paulo Coelho. The book made a strong impression on Benny, inspiring him to invite Coelho to visit Odense. The town’s mayor, Jan Boye, sent an official invitation, and in 2007, before a packed council hall, Coelho received his “Honorary Award.”
The prize presented by Mayor Boye consisted of a bronze sculpture “The Swan,” by sculptor Stine Ring Hansen and a swan diploma. A song, composed especially for Coelho, was entitled “The Beauty of Swan,” inspired by the fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling.” It had lyrics and music by Stig Nordestgaard and was performed at the award ceremony by soprano Susanne Elmark and baritone Jesper Buhl.
In his guest lecture, Coelho, with brutally honesty, described his difficult childhood. He commented on his magical novel, The Alchemist, and its relationship to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. He also encouraged Nybo to continue his work on the literature prize because, as he said, “the world needs authors.”
After signing books for hundreds of listeners, Coelho received a swan’s feather cast in bronze by sculptor Jens Galschiøt, along with a real swan’s feather.
In one of his novels, Coelho has written that the inspiration for his writing is often associated with a feather. Subsequently, he wrote the book Inspiration as a series of Buddhist stories. One of the chapters is a retelling in his own words of the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling.”
While visiting the H.C. Andersens Hus, museum director Ejnar Askgaard opened a cabinet containing a Brazilian translation of H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales, and a very moved Coelho immediately recognized the book as the same edition as the one his mother read to him as a child.
The organizers of the honorary ceremony included Jens Olesen, Stig Nordestgaard, and Benny Nybo, in close cooperation with the mayor of Odense, Jan Boye.
Following the visit by Paulo Coelho, Jens Olesen proposed the creation of a major international award called the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award.
In addition to a bronze sculpture of a swan and diploma, the prize includes 500,000 Danish kroner. Mayor Jan Boye approved the idea and gave the award committee the full support of Odense Municipality. The name was changed to Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award Committee.
The award was first presented under this name to J.K. Rowling in 2010. Since then, it has been awarded every two years: in 2012 to Isabel Allende, in 2014 to Sir Salman Rushdie, and in 2016 to Haruki Murakami. In 2018, it will be awarded to A.S. Byatt.
Immediately after the award established its new name, Professor Anne-Marie Mai, the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, and Villy Petersen, former director of Odense Municipality, were invited to participate in the committee’s work.
Today, the committee consists of six members: Jens Olesen, Anne-Marie Mai, Claus Houden, Michael Møller Nielsen, Ellen Hillingsø, and Lena Thorsgaard.
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