Literary Awards

Just last week I was reading a post over at Savidge Reads and was struck by a couple things.  First, I don’t pay attention to literary awards.  This might sound funny coming from someone who, at the very least, is a member of the RWA which has it’s own big awards once a year – but I truly don’t.  Truth be told I don’t usually know a book won an award unless I’m already looking at the book and said award was listed on the cover.  A friend of mine had commented how she would look at awards as a way of gauging what kind of esteem the work had garnered and a few of those she cites are the Pulitzer and the Pen/Faulkner as they most regularly indicate some level of quality.  Second, I have a philosophical issue and conundrum that arises when it comes to discussing such things which I’ll get to shortly.

Now, even though I don’t pay attention to the winners of such awards I admit to being somewhat in awe of these awards and certainly some of the works that have garnered them.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri certainly warranted the praise and acclaim they did (at least in my not so humble opinion) while still others left me scratching my head in wonderment that they were even nominated for such an honor.  Here comes the philosophical issues I have with these things.  Awards are given by people on a committee chosen by people in an organization whom we don’t know.  When one starts looking up the individuals on the judges one still has more ties to unravel to ascertain any biases that may advantage a work over another and merely hope that an ideological issue doesn’t place a work tossed into the bin – just the writing.

It’s easy to like and trust these awards when you’re raised hearing the names and then lauding the recipients as brilliant because, well, we’re supposed to trust these committees to judge the works “fairly”.  But when we start questioning the nature of the judging, that it is subjective, it comes down to us merely applauding a work because a committee of people we don’t know nor necessarily have a reason to trust, told us to.  I make no bones about the fact that these awards matter a great deal for the author, publicity certainly being a large one, but I can’t help but wonder at the reasoning behind so much faith in these other people to tell us what is exemplary.

The conundrum, as you can probably guess, comes to me as a writer.  Would I be enthralled, ecstatic, orgasmic, calling everyone I knew in the world excited if I won an award along these lines?  Well, I think I would be.  PEOPLE on a COMMITTEE, chosen by OTHER PEOPLE, told everyone my work was THAT GOOD.  And yet, who are these judges?  How or by whom were these judges chosen?  What do they prefer to read? What guidelines do they utilize in the judging process?  [If you know then certainly please let me know – that would be very interesting information, imo.]  But because these people LIKED something somehow that means it’s AMAZING – and I can’t get over how much a few people’s opinions matter in this world.

How much do awards matter to you?  Do you follow the lists of nominees as they come up and immediately flock to the library/book store?  Do you even know when the nominees or winners are posted?  If an award is listed on the cover does it compel you to purchase/read it?

**I admit to being completely ignorant of the awards awarded in other countries such as The Man Booker or the Aurealis beyond the few things I catch in the blog-o-sphere every now and again.

25 responses to “Literary Awards

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  • Jan

    I don’t know how it works in literary circles but in the world of fine art, you are required to take awards in order to “pay your dues”–at least this is what I have been told repeatedly. I guess it means you have to put your work out there in competition with other works and be “better”. In fine art there are some places where there are standards I can appreciate. However, I know that there is always more to it when one takes a prize. Been there done that.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I don’t think there’s any forcing of accepting awards, but rather viewed as beneficial to do so for the sake of a career. Lots of advertising done along those lines to tell the world a work has one some notable form of esteem.

  • Corra McFeydon

    An interesting post.

    I never follow award nominee lists, and I wouldn’t say I buy a book based upon how many awards it has won. It does tend to validate my purchase if I notice it won, but that’s an after-the-fact thing. I buy it if it looks interesting.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I’m with you on the purchase, Corra. At this point I’m becoming quite skeptical as to whether or not those lofty awards actually indicate a quality I’d be pleased with purchasing, however. Have a string of books on my TBR shelf that have won the Pulitzer so I’ll have a better gauge of that one soon. 🙂

  • Jemi Fraser

    I’m really bad at following awards and I generally would have to look up the awards to see what they’re for, how people get nominated… It’s just not my thing.

    But… I’m always more inclined to buy a book for my classroom if I see certain awards on the cover 🙂

    • kimberlyloomis

      Not mine either. What disturbed me most is how very loose the criteria seems to be in the nominating process never mind the vagueness of the selection of the winner. That the judges are picked by people undisclosed to the public also leaves me scratching my head. Silly to obfuscate such things in my opinion.

      Makes a great deal of sense to look at the awards when it comes to purchasing materials for students, imo!

  • Laura Marcella

    I love book awards! I think it’s interesting to see what others are singling out. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. That’s the fun of it! But of course awards don’t influence my reading choices. There are so many amazing books out there that deserve the big-time awards, but not everyone can win. That’s the bummer about awards! I’d hate to be those who are on the committees because I bet it’s super hard to pick the winners.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I would imagine you’re quite right, Laura. The big awards would probably have some amazing submissions and definitely not a job I would relish. I don’t think. Although I do think of the Oscars and think I’d pick the better movie than the Academy does most of the time. 😉

  • Hart

    I pay about as much attention to them as you do–would never know who the nominees or winners were unless I was browsing and there was teh sticker on the cover. I would be THRILLED though, to get one. I think they DO translate to sales, and they certainly translate to publicity and greater ease in publishing future works.

    I guess my feeling on the process and judges is, I may not know them at all… they may not be famous… but I have to trust that a panel of people making a decision will at LEAST not make a BAD decision. Yes, a great work might be weeded out by one judge with contrary tastes but the work that MAKES it, should at least be pretty darned good.

    There is of course, the caveat of what award it IS. Something judged on ‘artistic merit’ or ‘literary merit’ may not have mainstream appeal, as the goal may have been doing something really different, so even if they did it FANTASTICALLY, it may not be my thing, but for the most part, I basically trust group processes.

    • kimberlyloomis

      How alike and different we are, Hart! I abhor group processes in many aspects as, at least in these instances, it seems to boil down to the majority of the group to agree on something. Could be they liked it, could be that they simply disliked something else more, or that they just plain old preferred a style over another. I’d rather hear individual opinions and work with that instead.

      I read “Not Without My Daughter” a while back and it was nominated for a Pulitzer. Good information, if even incredibly ethnocentrically biased in reporting, but the writing was very poor. It’s not hard to understand why it was good it was written, but good writing should be a requirement for an award (even a nomination) of something as heavily lauded as the Pulitzer.

  • Carol Kilgore

    I don’t pay attention. I read them if they come across on a writers’ list, but I don’t base my reading on them. Even though I’m a writer. I guess that’s sad. There’s much more in my life that’s more important.

  • Arlee Bird

    It would be cool to win one, but I have no clear idea what they represent. I don’t keep up with literary awards and they don’t influence whether or not I read or purchase a book. But kudos to anyone who wins one. I’m sure it’s good for one’s reputation and marketability as a writer. Doesn’t hurt one’s financial bottom line I’m sure.

    Tossing It Out

    • kimberlyloomis

      I think that is the most pragmatic way of looking at it. Good publicity can translate into a bump in sales which of course is much appreciated by the author whose work garnered such notice. 🙂

  • Gail Williams

    I would just love to write a book!

  • Anne

    I don’t follow awards super closely except I do really appreciate them for introducing me to new books/authors. For example, I might have never heard of The Little Stranger, which I LOVED, if I hadn’t heard it discussed on the radio as a Man Booker runner-up.

  • RD Carter

    Winning is a phenomenol feeling. A literary award, A booger picking contest. For me, it’s all the same.

    Right now, I’m the top booger picker I know, but I am working my way up the lists of literary type writing awards I might want to enter and possibly win.

    Since I’ve been practicing the booger picking for 30 years and the writing thing for only the last 2o or so, I have a few years to go before I’m at the top of my writing game. But I’m nothing, if not tenacious.

    Look at it this way. Winning is great, but the practice is what gives you memories.

    You are waayyy too smart for the circles I run in Loomis. I had to google like every other word in your post. LOL!

  • Lua

    I rarely (OK, never if you don’t count the Noble prize- and I follow that one because it’s everywhere the next day) follow literary awards. And I certainly don’t care about them. When I pick up a book, I look at the plot, the characters and the story telling, the writing itself not whether it won any awards or not. As a writer, I think being read by many is the biggest award ever 🙂

  • DarcKnyt

    Much truth to consider here. Very interesting viewpoints. Just as crossing the publishing stagegate in the first place, the honors and accolades granted are ALSO subjective. Something I’d not considered before.

    An honor? Sure. But one to keep perspective with for sure. Excellent thoughts. 🙂

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