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New authors, what fun! Emerging writers and South Asian novelists recognized.

October 28, 2010

Amit Chaudhuri, author of The Immortals.

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.”

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Cumins permalink
    October 28, 2010 12:18 pm

    Chauncey, need your wonderfully-crafted intros at Book FAir.
    Please email me so we can talk. Thanks! Susan

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    October 28, 2010 1:01 pm

    I know what you mean about comparing apples and oranges in the book world. Still, I am thrilled to hear about the South Asian book award. It’s about time.

    Oh, and when you say “grubs teeming beneath a log” do you mean Steve Grubb?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 28, 2010 1:09 pm

      I did not mean Steve Grubb, but as you know literature is open to the interpretation of each reader anew.

  3. October 28, 2010 9:05 pm

    It’s pure desperation, Chauncey. Dear Lord we need those prizes to get any sort of notice. Wish I could win won [sic]. But you’re so right, we can’t keep up. There are just too many. And there’s no justice. And no peace. Wait: that sounds familiar. Didn’t it win The Break Your Face Award?

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 28, 2010 10:36 pm

    Maybe instead of a year-end best books list, I’ll found the first annual Chauncey Needs Publicity Literary Award. The distinguished winner gets a card from Hallmark and a dinner with me at the Versailles Cuban restaurant in Little Havana.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      October 28, 2010 10:39 pm

      Duff, If I’d had this award up and running back in the day, you could have won in 2001! Well, it’s too late for that, but come to South Florida and I’ll take to the Versailles anyhow.

  5. October 29, 2010 11:47 am

    It’s a date, Chauncey. Soon as I can clear my overwhelmed schedule and raise the money.

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