An array of agents, writers, scouts, literary critics and publishers are backing a new literary award (announced on Wednesday – 12.10.11) but names are being kept under wraps. It is said the advisory committee will be announced within the next fortnight and, funding permitted, the prize could be up and running as early as 2012.
The award, named rather simply The Literature Prize, has been set up to “establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence”, with the advisory board claiming that the Man Booker Prize no longer does the job.
The board, for which agent Andrew Kidd of Aitken Alexander is spokesperson, said the prize “will offer readers a selection of novels that, in the view of these expert judges, are unsurpassed in their quality and ambition.”
The board said: “For many years this brief was fulfilled by the Booker (latterly the Man Booker) Prize. But as numerous statements by that prize’s administrator and this year’s judges illustrate, it now prioritises a notion of ‘readability’ over artistic achievement. We believe though that great writing has the power to change us, to make us see the world a little differently from how we saw it before, and that the public deserves a prize whose sole aim is to bring to our attention and celebrate the very best novels published in our time.”
The Literature Prize will be awarded to the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK, with the writer’s country of origin not a factor (comparatively the Booker is only open to those from the British Commonwealth and Ireland).
This year’s Man Booker shortlist drew criticism for its omission of much-praised novels including Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child and Edward St Aubyn’s At Last, with the judges saying “readability” had been high on their list of priorities in making their choices. It is said that although partly inspired by the controversial nature of this year’s Man Booker shortlist, conversation on the new prize has been flowing for a few years.
So there are the facts, but what do you think? Do you believe the Booker priorities the notion of ‘readability’ over ‘artistic achievement’ and that challenging books are no longer considered? Or do you believe the Booker already puts literary excellence and readability hand in hand? Also, is there any way the two prizes can live harmoniously together or will they sit forever as rivals, creating a divide amongst readers and writers alike?