Saturday, April 15, 2006

Arguging with the Celebrations

In The bookseller column of the review section of today's Guardian the 'industry row' over the Short Story Prize goes on.

"The new national Short Story Prize is a 'missed opportunity of gigantic proportions', according to a specialist short story publisher. Ra Page, editor of the Manchester-based Comma Press claims that the prize's inaugural shortlist has dealt a 'body blow to real investors in the short story', such as fellow small publishers Comma, Tindal Street, Route, Maia and Flambard. The stories in the running for the Radio 4/Prospect-backed award are mostly by authors published by major houses: Rana Dasgupta (Fourth Estate), Michel Faber (Canongate), James Lasdun (Jonathan Cape), Rose Tremain (Sceptre) and William Trevor (Penguin). Page complains that the shortlist 'reads like and invite checklist to make sure all the 'right' people - or same people - are coming to the party.' He adds: 'The message it sends us is : 'its OK, you don't have to look very hard to find short stories - the writers you're familiar with anyway will fulfill this need.'' But Radio 4 broadcaster Francine Stock, who chaired the prize says the shortlist was drawn up from 1,400 entries on merit alone: ' It was just a question of what succeeded on the page. If you set out with an agenda [to support smaller presses] then its not a valid competition, however valid the claim is'. And fellow judge Alex Linklater, deputy editor of Prospect, argues that most of the authors are still outside the 'mainstream' of British publishing. 'We wanted to find the finest out there - it is meant to be a celebration of the art of the short story."

Which brings us back to the never ending argument about literary prizes in general. Which is something Erica Wagner brings up in the books section of today's Times. Having argued the pros and cons of such prizes she concludes her column with: "It seems to me that the way for the book to fight back, if such a fight is needed, is for books to rejoice in their existence as objects. Books are beautiful in themselves ... "

So if prizes are supposed to be a celebration of books, of stories, of words, why then does such rejoicing invariably end in argument?

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