The winner of the Nike – touted as Poland’s biggest literary award – was announced last week. Dorota Maslowska was chosen this year for her work – “Paw Krolowej” – “The Queen’s Peacock.” A controversial choice over seven other finalists, including Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, the young Maslowska has been both praised and picked on since her debut four years ago.

Report by Amy Drozdowska

Before Dorota Maslowska, Polish novels full of curse words and open and abundant references to sex and drugs weren’t all that common, let alone celebrated as important literary works. Now all that’s changed.

Last Sunday, Maslowska’s work “Paw Krolowej” garnered Poland’s literary honor, the Nike Award. The title is a play on words that translates as both “The Queen’s Peacock” and “The Queen’s Puke.” Even with its unabashed youthful impudence, jury members praised the work for displaying not just a certain virtuosity, but also maturity. Critic and longtime editor of the monthly “Tworczosc” Henryk Bereza marvels at Maslowska’s way with words:

Abolutely I am enthralled, most enthralled by the fact that she has such an amazing control over the language, that it’s a great power and it’s not true that this language is simply overheard from the outside world, from society, this language has an absolutely individual character.

Not everyone feels this way. Journalist Artur Gorski is among those who remain shocked at Maslowska’s success:

I think Dorota Maslowska literature is a disaster for Polish literature, disaster for Polish culture. It’s for me, it’s not a literature, it’s a jabber, a gibber pretending literature. This is a novel about, well, about nothing, which was created only from a so-called street language. Language very vulgar, and full of, in fact full of hate and malignancy. But is in fact laughable and very immature. Nike is a very important prize, but now it has lost it’s virginity. I’m sorry, but it’s my opinion. It was awarded to a book that deserved it least.

This kind of reaction to her writing and her star status served as rich material for Maslowska’s award-winning work. Described as “a prose-poem” as well as a “rap song,” “Paw Królowej” scathingly satirizes media-makers, pop stars, as well as the author’s own success. Its writing style quickly switches between registers, voices, and characters. This excerpt describes a cacophony of voices cutting a young Maslowska-like writer down to size:

Hey y’all, we’re screwed, looks like now she’s writing something new, oh God, we have to stop it, we won’t allow it, we don’t want it, not again, we won’t be led, give that fame to Lem instead, Mi³osz is worthy, Gombrowicz is, and other authors from the provinces, all those oh-so-talented literary youth of the blogging “breed,” but no, not she, how will Europe let us in, with her we’re more likely to go Russian, dig ourselves into potato- and nettle-cultivation, so why won’t anyone say anything?!

At the age of 19, Dorota Maslowska debuted her first work, translated into English variously as either “Polish-Russian War Under a Red-White Flag,” or “Snow White and Russian Red.” The work depicts a world of cynical suburban teenagers in tracksuits searching for meaning and identity in an age awash with too much information.

Maslowska currently pursues cultural studies at the University of Warsaw, and collaborates with a number of magazines, including the monthly Lampa. The young author reacted to the news of her latest book’s recognition with a mix of emotions:

'Well, I am a bit shaken, but never confused, I need to cool down, I need to move out of here, go out of town, I don’t know what I will do, I am terrified, I’m going to get rid of my telephone… again.'

Established in 1997, and administered and funded primarily by the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza as well as the consulting company NICOM, the Nike award aims to promote Polish language literature – and establish itself as the most prestigious literary award in the country.

A readers’ choice award, conducted by Gazeta Wyborcza and based on the outcome of a vote on the seven finalists, is also given: Wislawa Szymborska was chosen this year. The winner of the main Nike award receives a statuette designed by prominent Polish sculptor Gustaw Zemla, and a prize of 100 thousand zlotys – that’s 25 thousand Euro.