Was going to post this on the CW course blog but I think it’s more important that it be seen and shared here. (thanks to Bud at Chekhov’s Mistress for fingering it)
Noted author Zadie Smith was to judge the final selections for the awarding of the prize sum of 5000 pounds (can’t find the symbol) after the committee of three went through 850 entries submitted to 2008 The Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize. The whole story is here and it is well worth reading since the article traces the disappointment of both the committee members and the submitters.
Zadie Smith decided, after reading the top selections, that she really couldn’t feel good about awarding the prize to any of the submissions:
"Most literary prizes are only nominally about literature, they are really about brand consolidation – for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies even frozen food companies. The little Willesden Herald Prize is only about good writing, and it turns out that a prize faithfully recognizing this imperative must also face the fact that good writing is actually very rare. For let us be honest again: it is sometimes too easy, and too tempting, to blame everything that we hate in contemporary writing on the bookstores, on the corporate publishers, on incompetent editors and corrupt PR departments – and God knows, they all have their part to play. But we also have our part to play. We also have to work out how to write better and read better. We have to really scour this internet to find the writing we love, and then we have to be able to recognize its quality. We cannot love something solely because it has been ignored. It must also be worthy of our attention."
While I understand the reaction of the submitters (and really, you must read the website article to understand the whole scenario), I loudly applaud the committee and Ms. Smith for their brave gesture in not compromising their standards of quality. I don’t know how good or bad the stories were, but if four independent qualified readers didn’t get that gut feeling about even one story out of 850, then I trust their judgement. I’m sure this isn’t what they wanted to have happen and it would have been easy enough for any of them to push a favorite–had they been lucky enough to find one.
Sort of makes you reappreciate Brad the Bachelor who after 8 weeks or so of paring down to two the group of twenty wannabe brides, chose neither, claiming that deep inside he just didn’t feel he wanted to marry either of them.
Hooray for honesty! Maybe there will be a turnaround in more areas of our lives to deliberalize the mind of mankind.