I commented in last month’s Newsletter about the $50,000 Award for SE Asian Literature won by Jhumpa Lahiri; first, for the size of the stipend; and, second, for this amount slipping under my radar. Granted, this contest applied to only native SE Asian authors writing SE Asian content, but this stipend in U.S. dollars in most of the cultures in that area of the world is life-changing. Now I noticed another $50,000 stipend, in this case for the George Washington Book Prize, which appropriately enough pertains to nonfiction early-American history.
The award is sponsored by Washington College and two other entities. It’s great that authors who write in an academic vein can reap at least some degree of economic benefit, but wouldn’t it be great if some truly “independent” concerns offered decent monetary awards in the U.S? Awards that aren’t orchestrated to further the interests of their private enterprises, such as the case with Kirkus Media, which is using its contest with a $50,000 grand prize as a vehicle, in my opinion, to enhance the current limited value of Kirkus Reviews.
I had to laugh at another contest I read about recently, in which there were 300 finalists. Ah, how many reviewers, if they did this just for a living and nothing else, could read 300 books in a year? If I were a hiring manager for this job, my first question would not involve the candidate’s knowledge of letters but when the person graduated from Evelyn Wood. Seriously, providing an honest evaluation of material from hundreds of “finalists” renders the process a farce, as it simply cannot be done in a credible way.
The largest stipend for Literature I’m aware of (other than the Nobel Prize, which is more than $1 million and fluctuates depending on the value of the Swedish kronor) is for the Windham-Campbell Literary Prizes that was first presented in 2012. It’s a whopping $150,000 per category, and this year nine authors from around the world were selected winners. There were three fiction categories in this grouping.
This award has a Yale affiliation, and I’m impressed that once the finalists are selected by a panel, the voting is done by a committee that acts both anonymously and autonomously. I don’t know how those voting can be anonymous, but the thought in this regard is certainly commendable. I’m becoming more amazed than ever that I’ve recently discovered several separate literary awards that receive almost no publicity. We continue to hear, however, about the Booker, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and a couple of others, yet nothing in the mainstream press about those I’ve mentioned in this and other recent posts.