With literary competitions cropping up everywhere, and contests being fueled largely by popularity and PR, Prospect's resident arts and books editor Tom Chatfield takes the trove of literary prizes to task and wonders why we don't just ditch them all—except maybe the Booker. It may be flawed, but not a total failure.
Chatfield concedes that prizes “occupy an increasingly crucial, and volatile, position amid those imperfect processes by which writing is turned into literature,” but he feels that readers are “ill-served by much of the current marketplace of overlapping awards and those ‘prize-winning’ books manufactured to claim them.”
How do we fix the system? Re-evaluate, says Chatfield. It’s time to tone down the media hype, bolster the quality of juries, and “thin” out some of the competitions that aren’t serving writers (or readers) well. Chatfield suggests money could be better spent on award programs that foster authors aiming to get their first books into print.
The final and crucial component? Quality winners. “Without these,” he writes, “and without a public’s faith in these, it descends into a mere opinion poll; and we already have plenty of those.”