Friday, October 28, 2005

Measures of achievement

The Bookslut had a one-line link to a piece about the rising number of literary prizes. This turns out to be a Q and A session with Professor James F. English, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Prof has written a book about literary prizes, and it's published by Harvard UP, no less. It's a study of the role that prizes play in 'transactions that involve symbolic capital'. Whatever that means. And it almost certainly isn't worth the trouble trying to find out.

The last Q and A exchange goes as follows:
Q. Should we distrust prizes as measures of cultural worth?
A. What I would say is, What's more reliable? What's better than prizes? Sheer popularity?
Erm... Yes. Actually. It is. Certainly a lot better than the opinions of professors of Eng. Lit.

Of course there are prizes and prizes. Jenny Haddon, Chairman of the UK Romantic Novelists' Association, describes a good way of awarding one in her comment on my post of 6 September about the so-called National Short Story award. There is also a science-fiction prize which is awarded by one of the fan groups (could it be the BFSA?) on the basis of members' votes; and, most importantly, there is an opportunity to vote 'no award' if you think the year has not been a good one. I know I've read about this somewhere, but despite determined googling this morning I can't find the details.

3 comments:

Vince Vawter USA said...

I have utter contempt for literary prizes, and will continue to, unless, of course, I should happen to win one.

Stephen said...

The Hugo awards are voted for by fans (defined as members of the WSFS). "No Award" is an option which was last used in 1977 (for the "dramatic presentation" category). In 1959 Brian Aldiss came second behind "no award" for best new author of 1958.

Niall Harrison said...

The BSFA award is determined by member's votes, yes. During the year, members can nominate as many works as they think are worthy; at the end of the year, the nominations are tallied and the five with the most nominations go forward to form the shortlist; and at the year's Eastercon, members of the BSFA and members of the con vote according to a single transferrable vote ballot to determine the winner. The ballot includes an option for 'no award'.

More details here.