06 July 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri Wins the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

There was a brouhaha in New Zealand recently about the judges in the Montana Book Awards issuing a shortlist of four contenders for the fiction category, rather than the expected five. Now the judges of the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, for which my short story collection Transported (which you can buy online through Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad, or in person at an increasing range of bookshops) was longlisted, have gone one better: they have decided to dispense with the shortlist entirely and award the prize to Jhumpa Lahiri for her collection Unaccustomed Earth. This means that five other writers are denied the opportunity of their books appearing on the shortlist, with the consequent publicity and potential sales this would bring.

The arguments for and against this move are pretty much the same as for the Montana. On the one hand, the judges are appointed to make their decision based on their experience, and that decision should respected; on the other, getting shortlisted for awards can be a lifeline for less well-known authors - this is certainly the case for the Montanas. But, having said that the decision on the Montanas should be left to the judges, I have to be consistent and say that it's their call here as well. If Unaccustomed Earth was so much better than the competition, then it's only fair it should win.

But there's one point on which I do take issue with the judges: according to the Guardian, they said that

With a unanimous winner at this early stage we decided it would be a sham to compose a shortlist and put five other writers through unnecessary stress and suspense.


I have to say, judges: you could have put me through the stress and suspense of being on the shortlist, and I wouldn't have complained one bit. I would have been very grateful!

6 comments:

Tania Hershman said...

I have to say I agree with you, Tim. As someone said in a comment over at the Women Rule Writer blog, "one of the purposes of the shortlist is to allow the judges more time to concentrate on a small number of books." It seems to undermine the whole process to skip this stage, with all that goes along with it. And one can't resist the thought that all the publicity Jhumpa Lahiri got for her book (deservedly, I am sure) was somehow a factor - and perhaps also with last year's winner, Miranda July. Fingers crossed that one day, someone without the benefit of a powerful publicity machine takes home the prize money! (Am I cynical?? Me?)

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi Tim
Commiserations. I would feel the same way. I've posted about this on my blog, if you want to join in the discussion.
All the best
WRW

Tim Jones said...

Thanks for your comments, Tania and WRW. I am planning to build a powerful publicity machine in my garage - fuelled on recycled chip fat and designed to skip shortlists at a single bound!

Rachael King said...

Ha yes, they make it sound as if being shortlisted is a wholly negative experience.

"How are you?"
"Terrible."
"What's up?"
"Iv'e just been short-listed for a huge literary award."
"Oh, you poor thing! The stress and strain must be terrible!"
"It is."

Malathi said...

I am not an author; I have no conflict of interest. So let me say this without any hesitation: I think the judges' decision stinks. I think they have acted quite irresponsibly.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Rachael and Malathi.

As a famous fictional British politician used to say, "You might very well think that, but I couldn't possibly comment".

(See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Urquhart for more on this latterday Machiavelli)