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30th Anniversary of the Kresnik Prize

Author: Katja Križnar

Date: 29. July 2020

Time to read: 3 min

Summer is my favourite season as it brings, along with the sun and the sea, time to catch one’s breath and more time to read. My list of books waiting to be read has been getting longer every year. In a flood of foreign and translated literature, I prefer Slovenian authors.

I do not have a favourite Slovenian author. I often reach for the works of Brina Svit, Vinko Möderndorfer, Goran Vojnović, Drago Jančar and other authors who have received the Kresnik Prize. Novels that have placed among the finalists for the Kresnik Prize always impress me and are simply outstanding.

Award for the best novel of the year

The Kresnik Prize, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is awarded to the best Slovenian novel of the year and holds a special place in the Slovenian literary world.

The awarding of the prize is a kind of a summer cultural ritual, taking place on Bonfire Night on 23 June.

The prize was awarded for the first time in June 1991 – the year Slovenia was born as an independent country. Back then, Kresnik was a three-day cultural event. It was hosted on the banks of the Mura, in Razkrižje, the birthplace of the man behind the Kresnik Prize, Vlado Žabot, a Slovenian writer, editor and journalist.

The proceedings were later moved first to Muljava, the birthplace of the Slovenian writer, Josip Jurčič, and then to Ljubljana – to Ljubljana Castle and Rožnik, which has been the venue for the event for several years.

Lighting the bonfire

The denomination "kresnik" originates from the name of a Slavic mythological creature, which appeared when the sun shone the brightest. Light has been a constant feature of the event as the winning author symbolically lights a bonfire.

The winning author is accompanied by women dressed in white with wreaths on their heads and torches in their hands, and by a song, which is still sung today by the bonfire in Razkrižje.

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The fact that more than 100 novels enter the competition each year only further attests to the importance of this literary award.

Twenty-two Slovenian writers have lit the bonfire on Rožnik in these 30 years, as Drago Jančar, Goran Vojnović, Lojze Kavčič, Feri Lainšček and Andrej E. Skubic have received the prize for best novel multiple times.

Writer Drago Jančar, who is also Slovenia's most translated author, has received the Kresnik Prize four times.

Veronika Simoniti's novel Ivana pred morjem (Ivana before the Sea) was voted best novel of 2019.

In addition to this year's winner, the best novel award has also been awarded to Berta Bojetu (Ptičja hiša [Bird's House], 1996), Katarina Marinčič (Prikrita harmonija [Hidden Harmony], 2002), and Bronja Žakelj (Belo se pere na devetdeset [Whites Wash at Ninety], 2019).

Promotion of Slovenian Novels

"The first Kresnik Prize was awarded only days before Slovenia's war of independence. Until then in Yugoslavia, only novels– which are an integral part of the national identity– of Serbian authors were judged and received awards.

Therefore, it was also important to gain independence in a linguistic and spiritually-creative sense. Today, this award is also important for the promotion of the Slovenian novel, which has developed greatly in the last 30 years.

Before, only around 10 novels a year were published in Slovenia, whereas this number is now almost 20-times higher. The Kresnik Prize has been credited with this increase by the expert public. The award is based upon a mythical and spiritual tradition that is still a living part of the national identity story.

Its purpose is to evaluate the contemporary spiritual and linguistic creativity, which is also an integral part of the national identity story. The prize is famous in Slovenia as well as in the wider region. Most of the prize-winning novels have been translated.

It also has a great effect on the readers; therefore, it is important that it remains organised by people who will be aware of the significance of the national spiritual memory and the responsibility to only consider the literary quality of the prize-winning novels," said the "father" of the Kresnik Prize, Vlado Žabot, with regard to its importance.

I also believe that novels that have received the Kresnik Prize end up on our reading lists more frequently, whereby the main purpose of the award – to promote the Slovenian novel – is achieved.

I can speak from my own experience, as I have discovered quite a few Slovenian authors that have become an indispensable part of my literary collection.

If the prize also exposes the author to new possibilities, its importance is emphasised even more.