New authors, what fun! Emerging writers and South Asian novelists recognized.
If the writer of Ecclesiastes were alive today, he would doubtless write, “Of the bestowing of literary prizes there is no end.” Wearied, I no longer even try to keep up with them all. But here are two worth noting, one for emerging writers, one for South Asian literature.
I’ve probably used that Ecclesiastes line before, and I’ll almost certainly use it again. The original (Eccl. 12:12), goes: “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books [there is] no end; and much study [is] a weariness of the flesh.” That, of course, is true, too, as any book reviewer, drowning in a daily torrent of review copies, can attest.
Awards, problematic in their very nature, are worse. How can you really determine, say, that a comic novel about Jews in London has more literary merit than a challenging post-modern novel about personal loss and the rise of technology in the early 20th century, or a fictionalized account of De Tocqueville’s tour of America?
You can’t, obviously which makes of all arts prizes and awards a useful fraud — useful because they foster publicity and keep discussion and argument going. My oft-stated position remains the same: Once an award process reaches the short list, it should end, with all five or six nominees receiving the same prize, accolades and money.
Cough, cough. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can move on: Literary prizes seem to proliferate by some mysterious process, like grubs teeming beneath a log, but occasionally one or two can be found that actually serve a defensible purpose beyond a bit of glamor and PR.
Consider the Whiting Writers’ Awards, which bestows a (doubtless much-needed) $50,000 prize on 10 emerging writers each year. Past recipients include many writers who went on to fame and achievement, such as Jonathan Franzen, Luc Sante, Allegra Goodman, and Suzan-Lori Parks.
This year’s prizes go to five men and five women — novelists, poets, nonfiction writers, and one playwright. Mark these names. Some of them you will see again.
Fiction writers: Michael Dahlie, A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living; Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing; Lydia Peele, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing. Nonfiction winners: Elif Batuman, The Possessed; Amy Leach, essayist; Said Sayrafiezade, When Skateboards Will Be Free. Poets: Matt Donovan, Vellum; Jane Springer, Dear Blackbird; L.B. Thompson, “Tendered Notes.” Playwright: David Adjmi, Stunning.
Another intriguing literary award is the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Sponsored by an Indian construction company, the prize is intended to raise awareness of South Asian culture, something we might all be grateful for, given the rising global influence of the region. Not to mention the adventuresome reader’s joy in finding new voices.
This year’s short list: Amit Chaudhuri: The Immortals (Picador India); Musharraf Ali Farooqi: The Story of a Widow (Picador India); Tania James: Atlas Of Unknowns (Pocket Books); Manju Kapur: The Immigrant (Faber & Faber); Neel Mukherjee: A Life Apart (Constable & Robinson); HM Naqvi: Home Boy (HarperCollins India).
Chaudhuri might be the early favorite, if only because his novel was already short-listed for the South Asian regional Commonwealth Prize.
Winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced in January at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.
“Each novel on this list has a distinctive voice,” said jury chair Nilanjana S Roy, an Indian journalist and critic, ‘and taken collectively, they represent some of the finest and most rewarding of the work produced by novelists about South Asia.”