There are 36 total member states that participate in the program, and 12 of these nations are eligible to compete every year. This means each nation state may only compete once every three years. The prize is awarded to one individual from each of the 12 nations. The author must be an established author who does not yet have the piece translated into more than three languages, and the piece must be the author’s most recent piece of work.
“I think it’s interesting to try and bring in not just European, but transnational perspective on writing,” Gray Kinnier, one of the organizers of the event, said. “Like a very international idea about literature and translating literature into multiple languages and making it accessible.”
"The Shelf Life of Happiness" is about a man in crisis, Machado said. The idea came to him when he was examining his own life and wondered why he was so happy and content, while others in better situations than himself were not. This gave way to the novel, which features a young man in financial crisis in Portugal who still manages to maintain this feeling of being content with his life.
“This novel, it is about a lot of things,” Machado said. “It is about happiness, of course, and about hope and optimism, but it is also about the crisis in Portugal and in Europe in 2011 and it’s about youth and the way we see our youth in the future.”
While “The Shelf Life of Happiness” is not about Machado, he relates to the main character and intended for others to, as well.
“I wanted him to be middle class, married (with) children, just a normal person with whom everybody, or almost everybody, could relate,” said Machado.
UNC is able to host Machado through the Getting to Know Europe Grant that provides funds to the Center of European Studies on UNC's campus to spread the word regionally about contemporary Europe and the EU. The Center for European Studies reapplied for the grant two years ago and partnered with the University of Pittsburg to submit a joint application, which had never been done before. The two schools pitched the idea of bringing in authors who had been recipients of the European Union Prize for Literature.
“Because my degrees are in comparative literature, and the center has been sort of a hub of social sciences over the years, (I have) just been curious to try to bring in more cultural elements,” Sarah Hutchison, an organizer of the event, said. “And I think these days that has been happening more at the center in the last four years or so. Just to kind of widen the scope of the ways in which we talk about contemporary Europe and the EU specifically.”
The event is open to all members of the public, whether individuals have read the novel or not. The intent is to allow residents in the Chapel Hill area to get a taste of European literature through book readings, information about the prize and open discussion with questions for Machado about his novel.
Machado will host a reading at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Thursday evening. Friday morning, he will have another reading at the FedEx Global Education Center that will include a meet-and-greet with food. Hutchison is also providing free copies of the novel so people can read it before attending the event.
“It kind of evolved by itself,” Machado said. “At a certain point, I was a reader of my own story as I was writing it.”