US writer Dave Eggers would not travel to Germany to receive a prize Friday from the Gunter Grass Foundation due to the controversy over the Nobel laureate’s recent poem on Israel, his agency said.
Eggers, 42, best known for his memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and various Hollywood screenplays, was to pick up the foundation’s Albatross award for his book “Zeitoun” about a Syrian-American businessman accused of terrorist links during Hurricane Katrina.
The New York-based Wylie Agency said in a statement released by his German publisher that Eggers would not attend the event in the city of Bremen because he did not wish to be drawn into the uproar over Grass’s poem.
“Eggers won’t be coming for the ceremony because in light of the recent debate, he would be forced into commenting, endlessly and needlessly, on Grass and Israel and Iran,” it said, “when the purpose of his visit was supposed to be about discussing his book Zeitoun, and the plight of Americans during and after Hurricane Katrina.”
Gudrun Faehndrich, spokeswoman for Eggers’ German publisher Kiepenheuer and Witsch, said the writer would still accept the award – and its 40,000 euros in prize money, to be shared with his German translators.
Eggers has said he plans to donate part of the sum.
Grass, one of Germany’s most prominent intellectuals, touched off a firestorm of criticism with “What must be said,” in which he voiced fears that a nuclear-armed Israel would mount a “first strike” against Iran and wipe out its people, plunging the world into a new war.
The depiction of Israel as the biggest threat to Middle East peace as well as Grass’s own, long-unacknowledged service in Hitler’s Waffen SS as a teenager during World War II led the Israeli government to declare the now 84-year-old persona non grata.
The Gunter Grass Foundation was founded in 2000 by the city of Bremen, private donors and corporate sponsors and has awarded the Albatross prize every two years since 2006.