On Thursday, December 8, 2016, Their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands attended the 2016 Erasmusprijs held at the Koninklijk Paleis in Amsterdam. The Erasmusprijs, worth €150,000, is awarded annually to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities or the arts.
This year the Stichting Praemium Erasmianum awarded the prize to British writer, Dame Antonia Susan Byatt, her inspiring contribution to ‘life writing’, a literary genre that encompasses historical novels, biographies and autobiographies. The jury describes A.S. Byatt as a born storyteller with a keen eye for relations in public and private life.
Byatt has written dozens of (historical) novels, biographies, short stories and critical essays. In a wide-ranging body of work she unites great erudition with an unbridled pleasure in writing and imaginative power. Her work crosses boundaries in style and content. It covers a range of genres, literary forms and subjects. She immerses the reader in the history of European thinking, taking the big questions about science, history and identity as her starting point.
Among her recurring themes are the influence of art on life, magic and realism, and the conflict between ambition and family. Her body of work brings together not only artists and academics, but also fairy tales and myths. Many of her novels, including The Biographer’s Tale and Possession, explore the act of writing a biography or conducting research. In the process, she has reshaped the genre of life writing in her own way. Among her best-known books are Possession, short story collections such as Sugar and other Stories and the novel The Children’s Book.