This post promises to be the most controversial I’ve made, but let me state from the outset, that I’m glad all the prizes I mention exist.
Encouraging minorities to write and rewarding the best with a prize is a laudable thing. Just recently, a new prize was announced for women’s comic fiction. Called the Comedy Women In Print prize, contestants have to be unpublished and the winner will receive a contract with HarperCollins and an advance of £5,000.
There’s a plethora of competitions and prizes aimed at various minorities, including:
* Jhalak Prize—for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.
* Stonewall Book Award—for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
* The Thinking Woman’s Writing Award—for female non-fiction on philosophy
* Women’s Prize For Fiction—previously known as the Orange Prize & the Baileys Prize
* Virago/ The Pool New Crime Writer Award—for unpublished female crime writers.
* Creative Future Literary Awards—for writers with mental health issues, disability, identity or other disadvantages social circumstances.
* Granta, the literary magazine, irregularly issues lists of the best young novelists— ignoring anyone over the age of 40 who’s just started writing.
For mature writers, there’s the Christopher Bland prize, to be awarded to a first novel or work of non-fiction published when the winner is 50 or older. Note the catch—you have to be already published. As ever, with these prizes, self-published books are excluded.
The world of literary prizes, and even lists of favourite books of the year, often looks like a closed shop to me, in that the same damned authors get selected. It appears to me, that it’s not so much that their writing is exemplary, more that they’re being chosen because of long-founded connections with other authors, publishers and journalists…the old boys’ network. It’s not as if books win prizes through ‘blind tastings’ is it? Think how rare it is for a novel to win an award that doesn’t feature on longlists and shortlists for other prizes; it’s the same with books of the year lists that appear in December.
One of the most egalitarian of prizes is The People’s Book Prize though that requires a book to be submitted by its publisher. If an unpublished author wants to get anywhere, there’s The People’s Book Awards which welcomes emerging and established authors. Books Are My Bag Readers Awards are even more populist, being the only book award curated by bookshops and voted for by readers, but again it’s established authors who get the most votes.
Political correctness is peculiarly slanted, for no one is prepared to criticise how morally astute protestors and activists are being, even if they’re showing signs of prejudice themselves. Those who’ve been oppressed in some way can also be bigots.
I believe in having a level playing field, but that’s impossible. Because I’m male and Caucasian, I apparently represent an oppressive segment of society. Also, one that’s got it made…not in need of help or reward for my writing efforts through a specific award for my gender, race or age.
Imagine the reaction from politically correct people, if it was announced that a writing competition or literary prize was aimed solely at White Males! That would offend so many different groups, that I’m not even going to list them—yet, all would be in favour of such accolades for their own minority group.
Reverse discrimination is rarely mentioned, but there was an interesting example of it recently, from Sweden…where a rock festival was deemed to have been guilty of discrimination for excluding males.
“I hate political correctness because it turns you into a liar. People say what they think they’re meant to say.“
There’s nothing to be done about it, though, as political correctness is a weighty club.
I repeat I’m in favour of all of these competitions, prizes and cash awards targetting minority or special interest groups. In my working life and as a volunteer, I’ve interacted with disadvantaged children, the deaf, the blind, the autistic and dementia sufferers. I’ve been a marriage guidance counsellor and a rape crisis helpline volunteer and volunteered for the Crisis at Christmas homeless scheme.
Any competition or award is essentially a marketing tool, to attract attention to the books being promoted. That’s a good thing if we want more of the public to read…though, some of the prize-winning titles are not always easy reads so they might put people off.
I wonder if the increase in awards and competitions for minority groups is a backlash against the entrenched Caucasian middle class who run publishing…Try looking at literary agencies and publishers’ websites to find BAME, LGBT or disabled employees.
What do you think about the world of literary awards and writing competitions?
Have you ever entered a minority group writing contest?