Story of crops and gender fluidity wins €50,000 Libris book prize

Mariken Heitman accepting the Libris Literatuur Prijs. Photo: ANP/Jeroen Jumelet

Mariken Heitman has won the Netherlands’ most prestigious book prize, Libris Literatuur Prijs, for her novel Wormmaan.

Heitman was a surprise winner from a shortlist that also included Dutch-Ukrainian writer Lisa Weeda, whose novel Aleksandra examines the postwar history of her grandmother’s homeland.

Wormman (‘Worm Moon’) connects diverse themes including the development of agriculture and gender identity through the story of Elke, who wants to cultivate more diverse crops by reintroducing a wild species of pea.

It is the second novel by Heitman, who graduated in biology from Utrecht University and works as a gardener when not writing. ‘Weeding is very soothing,’ she told Nieuwsuur.

The prize, televised every year by the late-night news show, is worth €50,000 and is invariably a huge boost for the profile and sales of the winning author.

The jury, chaired by Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, praised Heitman for her ‘great intellect, literary mastery and the courage not to choose a conventional narrative’.

Interviewed after the presentation, she said: ‘I see parallels between how people shape crops and how we shape each other, and I wanted to investigate if the process could be reversed.

‘What I did in my book was have an image of the woman she [Elke] never became constantly shadowing her. It’s a kind of internalisation of all the comments and observations that we see in the media about how women are expected to behave.

‘One small example is that she’s constantly addressed as “young man” when she goes to the baker, which is a trigger for her to wonder why those categories are so rigid.’

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