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An Attempt to Explain Literary Awards

Tanya Paperny / Tuesday, November 10, 2009 Comments Off

p>literaryWhenever I hear about literary awards being bestowed on new works or see a list of prizes in an author’s book flap biography, I just allow the benefit of the doubt to take over.  I don’t know anything about most of the awards, but I assume they’re prestigious. Apparently I’m not alone:

The American Book Awards are different from the National Book Awards … how? Is it like a National League/American League-type of thing? Which is the one that Philip Roth is always nominated for? Don’t tell anyone, but before last week we did not know that the Booker was named for a corporation. We assumed it was a dude, or an affectionate British-y version of “bookworm.”

Thankfully, this article attempts to tackle and demystify the process of a few of the top awards, including the Nobel and the Pulitzer:

None of it can be scientific. There’s always vote-swapping and bargaining and some judge stubbornly sticking with some nomination no one else likes because it reminds him of his boyhood at Exeter. “We got well over 500 applicants” for the National Book Awards, says novelist Marianne Wiggins, who has served as a judge and was herself a Pulitzer finalist. “There’s no triage. You basically get down to 20 or 30 and then the arguments start.” Sometimes, “you’re not going to get a signature of excellence. You’re going to get a signature of democratic decision.”

And then a decision is made, and then … and then what? The whole awards juggernaut is “a rather desperate attempt to pump some life into flagging sales,” Wiggins says. “Most of the country doesn’t follow these awards anymore anyway.”

I wonder if these award givers don’t actually want us to know this information. I bet they want the awards and the selection process to be veiled in mystery.

Anyone else know of any good explanations of all the awards?  The article I linked to above isn’t too thorough.  Leave any links in the comments.

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  • http://bookshopstop.com/?p=586 Online Book Store and News – In the News: New-Look Lion, A Saddam Hagiography

    [...] Sorting out the selection process for various literary awards is hard work. [...]

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