Saturday, October 22, 2011

Prize Culture debate at the Manchester Literature Festival

Picture courtesy of Jon Atkin
A new experience this week, hosting a session on "prize culture" at the Manchester Literature Festival. The panel (left) was a brainy quintet of poets, writers and academics, all of whom were lovely to work with. Blogger Valerie O'Riordan has written a detailed account of who said what. It's here, if you want to link.

She says: "A couple of hours before this year’s Booker Prize winner is to be announced, The University Of Manchester’s own cabal of bookish experts turns out at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation to thrash out the advantages, complications and intricacies of literary prize culture. The debate is all the more timely in that this year’s Booker competition has been dogged by more than the usual speculation, with Dame Stella Rimington, head of the judging panel, announcing that she wanted "readability" (see link), and Jeanette Winterson, responding in theGuardian, saying that, in contrast, great literature ought to demand "time and effort" What’s happening? cry the commentators. What’s the remit of literary prizes? Have they replaced critics as the arbiters of public taste? Have the publishers’ publicity machines obliterated the rewarding of quality? Do we really need the Booker? Never fear, dear reader – our panel has stepped boldly into the breach to figure it all out.

"The event is facilitated by journalist Michael Taylor, and joining him are most of the staff of the University’s Centre For New Writing – Vona Groarke, MJ Hyland, Ian McGuire and John McAuliffe – as well as Jerome de Groot, Senior Lecturer in the English Department; between them, we’ve got poets and novelists, academics, literary prize judges and prize-winners – including, in Hyland, a former Booker shortlistee."

The main point was that literary prizes, like the Booker, may be flawed, they may exist for underlying marketing reasons, but on balance they have a place in the cultural firmament. The same could equally be said of art and music prizes. We also touched on how literary criticism is evolving through online reviews and the evolving proliferation of literary blogs.

The whole festival is amazing. I love the breadth of ideas that the range of venues and format has brought to Manchester. Last Saturday I saw readings from John Niven and Emma Jane Unsworth. On Tuesday I sat transfixed through a debate on Norweigan and Dutch short stories. There is an appetite for different cultural experiences and patterns of thought that the festivals bring. It's an explosion, a celebration of something extraordinary, rather than the very ordinary that we can so easily wallow in. It's exciting too that it's all happening here.

1 comment:

Valerie O'Riordan said...

Thanks for the link, Michael! Great event. x