Literary Awards and the Holy Grail of Impartiality

Posted: December 10, 2011 in In my opinion...
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Recently I was involved in (and by ‘involved in’ I mean ‘sat quietly in a corner and listened to’) a conversation about a certain Australian literary genre award.  The members of the organisation administering the award were divided in opinion as to whether it was desirable to use overseas judges.

There were a few arguments for and against.  One disadvantage was the cost to Australian authors of mailing manuscripts overseas, which is hardly an issue with the free and easy transfer of electronic files instead of hard copies (and if the judge in question can’t/won’t read a PDF, then he/she shouldn’t get the gig).  Those in favour of overseas judges cited the prestige that a big-name overseas judge could bring to the award; those against said (and I’m in this camp) that that suggests that the local industry is not good enough, which contradicts what literary awards, especially geographically specific awards, are all about – celebrating local talent.

It later occurred to me that there was another reason not touched upon for using overseas judges – they make great referees.

I refer to two 2011 controversies, one in Australia and one in Britain with the Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards and the British Fantasy Award respectively.  In both countries, the specfic writing community is relatively small, so the awards judges are almost guaranteed to be placed in the position of judging the works of close friends.  Accusations of favouritism are inevitable.  If you use overseas judges, though, then most of that goes away.

I reckon that, just like in international sports fixtures, the referees – I mean, judges of all literary awards should come from another country.

And if anyone has a problem with that – yellow card ‘em.

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