International Vladimir Nabokov Society Prizes
In 2018, the International Vladimir Nabokov Society established a group of prizes generously funded by the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation. The first four rounds of prizes (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022) have been awarded and the winners of these prizes are listed below. IVNS is now accepting submissions for its 2023 round of prizes. Applications are encouraged for all eligible work.
Administration and Funding: These prizes are administered, selected, and awarded by the International Vladimir Nabokov Society, and funded by the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation. In all cases they will be awarded only where there is work of sufficient merit. In the case when two winners share one prize, the prize money will be shared between them.
Timing: Prizes awarded in 2023 will be for work either submitted (in the case of undergraduate and postgraduate essays, theses and chapters), examined and accepted (in the case of the best dissertation prize) or published (in the case of the other prizes) in the calendar year 2022, except for the Brian Boyd Prize. The Brian Boyd Prize was awarded in 2019 for work published 2016 – 2018 and in 2022 for work published 2019 – 2021. It will be awarded again in 2025 for work published 2022—2024.
Language: Work can in principle be considered in any language. However, the judges have to be able to judge all entries fairly against one another; thus the only language in which contributions can be guaranteed consideration is English. If the judges have sufficient linguistic competence, they can judge work in other languages, and if they wish, commission expert reviewers in that language and consult with them.
Submission: All academic work and publications to be considered for prizes need to have reached the judges’ attention by April 30. Please contact the President and Vice-President of the IVNS, Siggy Frank and Marie Bouchet, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Announcement: The prizes will be announced in October 2023 on this website and on Nabokv-L, the Nabokov listserv.
Ellen Pifer Prize for Best Undergraduate Student Essay on Nabokov
Awarded annually for an undergraduate essay of any length. Value $200. The student's advisor must sign an endorsement. Professors should nominate exceptional student essays by contacting the President and Vice-President of the IVNS at email@example.com.
Named in honor of American Nabokov scholar Ellen Pifer.
2021: Sophia Houghton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) for “Fated Text, Autonomous Design: Aubrey Beardsley’s Spectral Legacy in Lolita”
Sophia Houghton's "Fated Text, Autonomous Design" is a superb combination of original research and meticulous analysis. Her essay proves that Nabokov's Lolita is linked in subtle and revealing ways to Beardsley's intriguing work.
2020: Alisa Shimoyama (University of East Anglia, UK) for “Reality and Fiction in Nabokov’s Last Three Completed Novels”
Alisa Shimoyama’s essay “Reality and Fiction in Nabokov’s Last Three Completed Novels” explores the paradoxical relationship of art and fragile reality in Ada, Transparent Things, and Look at the Harlequins! Working outward from Derrida’s discussion of mimicry and the textual production of the real in Mallarmé, Shimoyama reveals how the figure of paradox allows for a passage between the realms of dream and waking, death and life. Moving beyond Nabokov’s own pronouncements on art to close readings of the novels themselves, Shimoyama explores with sensitivity the nuanced variations on this central theme in his late work. Reading the late Nabokov with a tradition of self-reflexive fiction, this skillfully balanced piece presents a rewarding view of Nabokov’s authorial presence as both intra- and extra-textual.
2019: Matt Walker (Ohio State University) for ‘“Being Aware of Being Aware of Being”: Nabokov’s Invitation to the Beyond”’.
The judges write: ‘Matt Walker’s essay points to the problem of unknowability. His essay shows how Nabokov "views the world as an inexhaustible source of inspiration and discovery while simultaneously recognizing that no complete answer can ever be revealed,” skillfully interrelating Nabokov's treatment of time, the otherworld, language’s limitations, past/present and memory, based on a close reading of Nabokov’s texts. The essay builds an important and sophisticated argument using an impressive bibliography.’
Dieter E. Zimmer Prize for Best Postgraduate Work on Nabokov
Awarded annually, to the best work on Nabokov done at master’s level, or as coursework towards a master’s or a PhD, or to a chapter of a PhD dissertation. Value $1500.
Named in honor of German Nabokov scholar, translator, and editor Dieter E. Zimmer.
2022: Charlotte Lamontagne (Université Paris Cité), “Listening to Lolita” (MA dissertation) for “Listening to Lolita"
Ms. Lamontagne’s master’s thesis links sound studies and literary studies in a well-structured and finely argued study of audiobook versions of Nabokov’s Lolita. She thus opens up new territory in Nabokov studies. Beyond detailed analyses of the voice acting and sonic landscapes in James Mason’s and Jeremy Irons’s audio-book renderings of the novel, which she contextualizes within the two actors’ careers and their embodiment of Humbert Humbert in Kubrick’s and Lyne’s film adaptations, the author also discusses the characteristics of Nabokov’s public readings and extant recordings. Regarding Nabokov’s readings, nuanced comments on the role of audience responses encourage further inquiry into the performative aspects of sounding out Nabokov’s fiction. As suggested in the conclusion of the thesis, more work should be done in which sound studies and literary studies are jointly employed to better understand how voice and other sonic features of audio books, of other kinds of recordings, and of public readings impact the interpretation of Nabokov’s literary oeuvre.
2021: Avital Nemzer (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) for "'A Birch-Lime-Willow-Aspen-Poplar-Oak Man': Images of Trees, Temporospatial Liminality, and the Metaphysical in the Works of Vladimir Nabokov"
The judges write: The essay shows the importance of trees, a feature of Nabokov’s settings that has never been studied in depth. Thoroughly familiar with both Nabokov’s texts and with prior scholarship, Nemzer’s thoughtful and informed analysis has made it clear that we take Nabokov’s trees for granted at our own risk. While Nemzer accounts for the presence of a number of tree species in Nabokov’s work, both judges were especially impressed by her analysis of poplars and liminality.
2020: Luke Sayers (Baylor University, USA) for “‘America’s Russian’: Vladimir Nabokov and the Cultural Cold War”
The judges write: Luke Sayers has succeeded in raising relevant questions about the nuances of current debates within Nabokov studies. The author challenges the familiar bi-polar intellectual cartographies drawn around the notion of the “cultural Cold War” and specifies the ways in which Nabokov eludes the geopolitical and aesthetic coordinates assigned to him and his fiction.
2019: Erik Eklund (University of Nottingham), for ‘“A Green Lane in Paradise”: Eschatology and Theurgy in Humbert Humbert’s Lolita’.
The judges write: ‘In this astute and sophisticated essay, Erik Eklund argues for a bold new way of reading Nabokov’s most controversial novel. Showing an impressive familiarity with existing Nabokov scholarship on the subject, Eklund deploys the insights of Russian religious philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev to map a way for coming to terms with the complex moral predicament posed by Lolita. According to the model furnished by Berdiaev and mobilized by Eklund, Humbert does find redemption at the end of his journey even as this redemption does not trivialize or justify his evil conduct towards Dolly Haze. Whether one agrees or not with Eklund’s argument, its power and nuance demand that it be taken seriously in the difficult task of analyzing the scandalous nature of Lolita.’
Zoran Kuzmanovich Prize for Best PhD Dissertation on Nabokov
Awarded annually for the best dissertation predominantly (at least 50%) on Nabokov. Value $1500.
This prize honors the support given to young scholars by American Nabokov scholar Zoran Kuzmanovich through his editorial work at Nabokov Studies, at MLA conferences, and in other ways, including establishing and funding the original PhD prize as the Kuzmanovich Family Prize.
2019: Brendan Nieubuurt, "Flesh Made World: Inscription and the Embodied Self in Osip Mandel'shtam and Vladimir Nabokov" (Columbia University 2018), and Agnès Edel-Roy,“'Une ‘démocratie magique': Politique et littérature dans les romans de Vladimir Nabokov” (Université Paris Est, 2018).
Rilke’s ninth Duino elegy speaks of “Things which live by perishing.” Nieubuurt surefootedly locates the traces of such self-inscribing perishings in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading and Mandelstam’s The Egyptian Stamp. Through Bergson’s theory of embodied being, Nieubuurt theorizes each writer’s “ontological exile” and offers an analysis of Mandel’shtam work that not only points out the similarity of the strategies Nabokov and Mandel’shtam deployed to resist being mired in the superficial reality of a Sovietized world but also explains why at various times Mandel’shtam’s poetry was a bedside companion for both Vladimir and Vera Nabokov.’
Agnès Edel-Roy’s PhD dissertation renews our understanding of Nabokov in relation to politics and to the questions of tyranny and control, arguing in favor of the relevance of Nabokov’s work today. Edel-Roy characterizes Nabokov as an author who favors emancipation, celebrates freedom and sees literature as a form of democracy. The “magic democracy” of fiction in the title is a quote from Nabokov’s lecture on Dickens. Edel-Roy’s work shows excellent knowledge of Nabokov’s Russian, French and American texts and contexts, as well as of Nabokov criticism in Russian, French and English. Building on existing research in Nabokov studies, Edel-Roy’s reading is a plea for better historicizing and contextualizing Nabokov within the 20thand the 21stcenturies. Her ambition is not only to read between the lines of Nabokov’s pronouncements about his work, but also to engage in a dialogue with Nabokov scholarship. Agnès Edel-Roy’s dissertation is ambitious and impressive in its scope and richness. The vastness, nuance and quality of her knowledge of Nabokov’s work, its reception and historical contexts are simply astounding. For these reasons, she amply deserves to be the co-recipient of the Zoran Kuzmanovich Prize for the Best PhD Dissertation on Nabokov.’
Gennady Barabtarlo Best Essay Prize
Awarded annually for the best academic article or book chapter on Nabokov. Value $500.
Named in honor of Russian-American Nabokov scholar and editor, Gennady Barabtarlo.
2022: Winner: Jose Vergara, "Vladimir Nabokov: Translating the Ghosts of the Past," from his book All Future Plunges to the Past (Cornell UP, 2021)
The judges were tremendously impressed by the historical scope and compelling close, comparative reading of Joyce and Nabokov undertaken here, re-framing and vivifying the thorny question of “influence” in Nabokov studies. If Nabokov adapts certain key themes of Ulysses, Vergara nonetheless makes clear that he does so on his own terms and towards his own quite distinct ends. The tracing of invention/creation/discovery of literary paternity is extremely well done. The author does a magnificent job of presenting the multiplicity of socio-historical, literary-historical, and biographical contexts in which Nabokov’s engagement with Joyce took place, without ever reducing the business of close reading to mere context.
Honourable Mention: Lara Delage-Toriel, "A Tactile Sensation is a Blind Spot: Nabokov’s Aesthetics of Touch," in M. Bouchet et al. (eds), The Five Senses in Nabokov’s Work (2020)
A brief but powerful invitation to readers to reconsider Nabokov’s works freshly with heightened attentiveness to the tactile or haptic elements embedded/embodied in his writing. (If ekphrasis suggests the capacity of language to bring to life, as it were, a visual sensation or image, then haptic descriptions might similarly reproduce the tactile.) Nabokov had complained that Joyce’s words have too much body to them; Delage-Toriel shows that in old age Nabokov's words had perhaps too much memory of the body in them. Her own language is a kind of reader-response strip-tease playing at occasionally matching the imagined/remembered rhythm of Van and Ada’s overheated initial contacts. Yet, oddly enough, her scholarship is in place and doing its work too. Despite its brevity, the essay was highly suggestive of a new direction in Nabokov studies.
2021: Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, "Visual Agnosia in Nabokov: When One of the Senses Can't Make Sense," in The Five Senses in Nabokov's Works, edited by Marie Bouchet, Julie Loison-Charles, and Isabelle Poulin (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), pp. 123-38.
This illuminating essay explores multiple varieties of distorted visual perception in Nabokov’s works, producing subtle and suggestive analogies with specific neurological diagnoses. While not arguing, and not needing to argue, that Nabokov specifically knew of precise conditions such as “visual agnosia,” “associative agnosia,” “apperceptive agnosia,” “color agnosia,” “Capgras delusion,” and more, Sweeney elegantly demonstrates that episodes of distorted perception in Nabokov’s fiction are enriched by thinking of them in relation to various cognitive and perceptive diagnoses. She shows that these episodes are particularly important for readers’ experiences of a given text, causing them “to engage in a series of responses to it: accepting . . . , questioning . . . , and finally, perceiving what the protagonist himself does not see.” One of the keenest insights this brings Sweeney is the startling recognition that when Humbert is reunited with Dolores at Camp Q, her failure to conform to his remembered image of her may be the only time in the novel he really sees Dolores, the actual, non-solipsized girl, as she is. As Sweeney writes, “By compelling readers to experience, vicariously, the forms of visual agnosia evoked in a novel’s narration, Nabokov leads them to be come more conscious of their own perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and discernments.”
2020: Tatyana Gershkovich (Carnegie Mellon University, USA) for "Suspicion on Trial: Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata and Nabokov’s 'Pozdnyshev’s Address'" in PMLA 134.3 (2019): 459-74.
The judges write: In her insightful analysis of the little-known and, as yet, unpublished in English “Pozdnyshev Address” – composed and delivered by Nabokov in July, 1926, at a literary mock trial organized by the Russian Journalists and Writers’ Union in Berlin – Tatyana Gershkovich compares the young writer’s morally charged interpretation of Pozdnyshev’s personality, solipsistic approach to life, and “suspicious hermeneutics” to Tolstoy’s portrayal of the egomaniacal character in The Kreutzer Sonata. Deeply nuanced and conceptually compelling, Gershkovich’s investigation of what she calls “Nabokov’s departures from Tolstoy” sheds light on the evolution of Nabokovian ethics and aesthetics, especially the “suspicious reading” approach that he begins to integrate into his works in the late 1920s, when transitioning from solely poetic and short-story composition to his career as a novelist. In her provocative, original, sophisticated, and thoroughly researched essay, the figure of Nabokov the Tolstoy critic evolves into that of a young writer who is ready to boldly overcome his great predecessor’s grip on the reader's imagination by creating a text “that manages not to cede us full control over its meaning.” Gershkovich's argument in "Suspicion on Trial: Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata and Nabokov's 'Pozdnyshev's Address'" is tightly focused, even as it illuminates Nabokov's overall development as a writer and the pervasive tension, in all his work, between playfully ironic aesthetic complexity and awareness of human suffering.
2019: Stephen Blackwell (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) for his article, ‘Calendar Anomalies, Pushkin and Aesthetic Love in Nabokov’, The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 96, No. 3 (July 2018), pp. 401-431.
The judges write: ‘In “Calendar Anomalies, Pushkin, and Aesthetic Love in Nabokov,” Stephen Blackwell provides an insightful interpretation of intricate Nabokovian chronology in Lolita, Pnin and Pale Fire and its interaction with Pushkin’s calendar. Blackwell's discoveries and conclusions are backed up by a painstaking, very detailed textual and intertextual research. He reinforces the connection between the three novels and Nabokov’s Pushkin studies, supporting his claims with meticulous analysis of motif structures and dating patterns in such texts by his literary predecessor as Belkin Tales, “The Three Springs,” “I am sad: there is no friend with me,” “October 19, 1827,” “The Water Nymph [Rusalka],” and many others. Blackwell’s conclusions are polyphonic, in the true Bakhtinian sense, and refreshingly non-prescriptive. He links the theme of exile in Pnin to the Pushkinian paradigm of a poet’s abandoning his home and reaches the conclusion that, no matter what calendric “anomalies” there may be in Lolita, the novel owes some of its beautiful ambiguity to Pushkin, whose lesson “was precisely that: a fragile yet beautiful life of joyous openness, jaunty rebelliousness and freedom from entrapment and ‘completeness.’”’
Jane Grayson Best First Book Prize
Awarded annually for a first book that makes a significant contribution to Nabokov studies. Value $1500.
Named in honor of British Nabokov scholar, Jane Grayson.
First award of the Nabokov First Book Prize (as the biennial Samuel Schuman Prize, funded by the Kuzmanovich Family trust):
2022: Robert Alter, Nabokov and the Real World (Princeton, 2021).
The referees of the 2022 Jane Grayson Prize find Robert Alter’s Nabokov and the World: Between Appreciation and Defense (Princeton University Press, 2021) inspiring in a meaningful and invigorating way. Apart from being an unconventional tribute to the writer, it is also a contemplation of Nabokov’s art which points the reader towards in-depth, investigative reading and re-reading. Alter has his eyes fixed on the text and the extra-textual reality behind that text; he honors the multilayered structure of Nabokovian narrative; he appreciates the tragic underpinnings of Nabokov’s wit, thus making those who may yet have to discover Nabokov’s depth look in the right direction. This prize recognizes Robert Alter’s contribution to the field of Nabokov studies, a contribution the magnitude of which becomes apparent to the reader of this book.
2021: Alexander Spektor (University of Georgia) for The Reader as Accomplice: Narrative Ethics in Dostoevsky and Nabokov (Northwestern UP, 2020)
This book places Nabokov’s work within the context of a bracing new analysis of both the function of authorship in Dostoevsky’s work and Bakhtin’s celebrated principles of polyphony and dialogue. By showing that these concepts are inextricably enmeshed with violence, Alexander Spektor deconstructs a recurrent dichotomy in Nabokov studies: the distinction between life and art. Nabokov often punishes protagonists who try to fix other characters with an objectifying aesthetic gaze; he undermines their authorial ambitions, insisting that only he, the true author, can exercise such power. Spektor shows that this tactic’s inherent contradictions call Nabokov’s own writing into question: “by revealing the unethical nature of the creative activity of his narrators, Nabokov compromises the authorial function itself.” The Reader as Accomplice supports its claims with innovative readings of several novels, particularly Despair and Bend Sinister.
2020: Awarded jointly to
Andrei Babikov (Alexander Solzhenitsyn House of Russian Abroad, Moscow, Russian Federation) for Прочтение Набокова. Изыскания и материалы (Perusing Nabokov: Studies and Materials).
Stanislav Shvabrin (The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA) for Between Rhyme and Reason: Vladimir Nabokov, Translation, and Dialogue.
The judges write: Shvabrin's book takes us on a journey through the world of the poems of others that Nabokov loved best and translated himself, offering crucial insights (and archival glimpses) into the mechanisms inside Nabokov's artistic workshop that incorporate, respond to, and extend poetic materials he revered in the works of others. Babikov's Perusing Nabokovpresents a large collection of the scholar's archival discoveries that shed surprising and valuable new light on many works that were previously thought to be textologically settled. Both of these authors deserve high praise for producing foundational studies that bring oft-overlooked materials to the fore, providing crucial resources that other scholars will turn gratefully to again and again.
2019: Michael Rodgers (Open University, UK) for his monograph Nabokov and Nietzsche: Problems and Perspectives (Bloomsbury, 2018).
The judges write: ‘Like many Russian writers during the Silver Age, Nabokov was familiar with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rather than providing a traditional study of influence, however, Rodgers uses Nietzschean themes that surface in Nabokov’s work—including eternal recurrence, amor fati, master-slave morality, the Übermensch, and productive experiences of moral disorientation and perspectivism (which demands individuals’ active engagement with truth)— to examine, often with insight and subtlety, problems in interpreting the author and his writing that have haunted Nabokov studies for decades.’
Brian Boyd Prize for Best Second Book on Nabokov
Awarded every three years for a second book, at least 50% on Nabokov, by someone who has already published a book predominantly on Nabokov. Value $1000. The Brian Boyd Prize was awarded in 2019 for work published 2016 – 2018 and in 2022 for work published 2019 – 2021. It will be awarded again in 2025 for work published 2022—2024.
Named in honor of New Zealand Nabokov scholar, Brian Boyd.
2022: Dana Dragunoiu (Carleton University, Canada) for Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Moral Acts (Northwestern University Press, 2021).
From a field of very strong nominations, the winner is Dana Dragunoiu’s Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Moral Acts. The judges found this to be a brave, creative treatment of ground well-prepared by earlier scholars interested in the ethical side of Nabokov, beginning with Ellen Pifer’s classic Nabokov and the Novel. The ethical–aesthetic and reality–artifice dichotomies are just about the main contentions posed by Nabokov, and in the chivalry/courtesy model Dragunoiu has lighted upon a cap which fits most of the oeuvre, which gets to the heart of the matter, and which doesn’t duck problematic and sensitive topics; it gives the feeling of serving as much more than mere intellectual entertainment. Here is a book with consequential stakes (as the stakes of courtesy are so often consequential in the works she elucidates). The judges appreciate the tact with which Dragunoiu draws attention to Nabokov’s potentially negative anti-social traits, and to his awareness of them, without feeling it incumbent on her to defend or accuse. The way she uses the chivalry/courtesy model to put Nabokov’s works into unexpected conversations with the Gawain poet, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Kant, Tolstoy, and Proust brings readers to a significantly enriched understanding of Nabokov’s moral and ethical concerns, and the traditions he draws from in engaging them.
2019: Stephen Blackwell (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Kurt Johnson (Florida State Collection of Arthropods, Gainesville) for Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art (Yale University Press, 2016).
The judges write: ‘The judges for this Prize carefully considered five impressive books on Nabokov published in the last three years by established Nabokov scholars. Each would have made a worthy recipient, but ultimately they chose Fine Lines: Vladimir Nabokov’s Scientific Art, edited by Stephen Blackwell and Kurt Johnson (Yale University Press, 2016). Being a distinguished lepidopterist as well as one of the twentieth-century’s great novelists, Nabokov is a writer of outstanding interest to all those who care about the complex relationships between science and art. Fine Linescarries the existing work on this subject forward by presenting us with no fewer than 148 of Nabokov butterfly drawings, beautifully reproduced. The elegantly written and intellectually sophisticated introduction, drawing meticulously on a range of sources, sheds new light onto Nabokov’s thought and writing by focussing in particular on the fundamental questions of taxonomy and systematics. The annotations to each drawing are exceptional, providing every context that future students will need to understand what Nabokov was thinking about as he drew his butterflies. Although the Prize is awarded for the quality of the introduction, editorial work, and annotations, the judges note that the volume is enriched by ten excellent essays and a valuable bibliography. Yale University Press also deserve the praise and gratitude of Nabokovians, and of the literary and scientific community more broadly, for having made this beautiful book.
Vladimir Nabokov Society Travel Scholarships
Up to five travel scholarships of $500 will be awarded annually to younger scholars presenting at the annual conference supported by the IVNS. More details to be announced when the Call for Papers is issued.
Nabokov Studies Prize
This prize is generously funded by Zoran Kuzmanovich, the editor of Nabokov Studies.
The Donald Barton Johnson Prize
For the best essay published in Nabokov Studies honors the founding editor of Nabokov Studies. The prize is voted on by a rotating subset of the Nabokov Studies Editorial Board and members of the Davidson College Faculty. The winner is chosen with a view to expanding the intellectual challenge and the range of Nabokov studies as well as deepening the human and professional connections among Nabokov scholars.
Nabokov Online Journal Prizes
NOJ Prize for Best Contribution to Nabokov studies. Biennial, after first award. Value $600. Selected by popular vote.
2012 (for 2000-2011). Brian Boyd, Nabokov's Ada: The Place of Consciousness (2nd rev. ed., 2001).
2013 Stephen H. Blackwell, The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov's Art and the Worlds of Science (2009).
NOJ Award for the Best Student Essay on Nabokov. Annual. Value $300.
PEN Nabokov Prize
The PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature is a lifetime award, selected annually by a panel chosen by PEN American Center, for a living author whose body of work, either written in or translated into English, is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship. The winner receives a $50,000 prize, funded by the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation.
In its initial form the Prize was set up by PEN American Center and Dmitri Nabokov in 2000, was biennial, worth $20,000, and awarded to writers, principally novelists, "whose works evoke to some measure Nabokov's brilliant versatility and commitment to literature as a search for the deepest truth and the highest pleasure— what Nabokov called the 'indescribable tingle of the spine'" (to cite a no longer valid PEN American Center link). Under its initial terms, it was awarded in 2000 to William H. Gass, in 2002 to Mario Vargas Llosa, in 2004 to Mavis Gallant, in 2006 to Philip Roth, and in 2008 to Cynthia Ozick. The award then lapsed until it was revived under the new terms above in 2016.