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Sunday, 20 March 2011





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Integrity of literary awards

This week’s column is devoted to explore the positive and negative impact of literary awards on the advancement of literature in general.

Before dealing with the subject at hand, it is pertinent to look, at least, briefly, at the criteria and procedures adapted by major literary awards and their impact on progression of literature.

One of the most famous and cherished literary awards is the Nobel Prize for literature. Although Nobel Prize is awarded for a host of subjects, for obvious reasons, the discussion is confined to Nobel Prize for Literature and its selection process.

Nobel Prize for Literature - Nominations

The complex selection process commences with the Nobel Committee sending nomination forms to about 3000 individuals who are often the academics in the respective fields.

In the month of September, the year before the prizes are awarded, the group of individuals to whom the nomination forms have been sent, should return their nomination on January 31 of the year of the award. Nobel Committee nominates about 300 potential laureates and additional names from the returned nomination forms.


Upon receiving of about 300 potential laureates, the Nobel Committee compile a report with the advice of the experts in the relevant fields. The report is then submitted along with the list of preliminary candidates to the Prize-awarding institutions.

The institution will select the laureate or laureates by majority vote. A maximum of three laureates and two different works may be selected per award.

Except for the Peace Prize, which can be awarded to institutions, the awards can only be given to individuals. If the Peace Prize is not awarded, the money is split among the scientific prizes. So far this has happened 19 times.

Posthumous nominations

Although posthumous nominations are not permitted, individuals who died in the months between their nomination and the decision of the prize committee were originally eligible to receive the prize. This occurred twice: the 1931 Literature Prize awarded to Erik Axel Karlfeldt. Since 1974, the laureates must be alive at the time of the October announcement.

Man Booker Prize

Man Booker Prize is another major literary award which is famous for its integrity of the selection process.

The Advisory Committee of the Man Booker Prize advises on any changes to the rules and on the selection of the judges who are the sole and exclusive arbiters of the selection process. It is noteworthy that the panel of judges changes every year and judge is enrolled for the second time is rare.

Among other things, factors such as gender balance of the panel of judges are also looked into in the nomination of the panel. The panel is made up of a literary critic, an academic, a literary editor, a novelist and a major figure.

One of the cardinal principles of the selection process for the Man Booker Prize is once the panel of judges is appointed, they are entrusted with the task of selecting the individuals for the prize with absolute no interference from the administration or from the sponsors.

The prize is worth £50,000. It will be awarded to the author of the best, eligible full-length novel in the opinion of the judges. The prize may not be divided or withheld.

The judges will be responsible for compiling a long list of twelve or thirteen books - ‘The Man Booker Dozen' - followed by a shortlist of six outstanding books submitted for the prize. For inclusion in this shortlist a title must have the full support of at least one judge in whose opinion it is a valid contender for the prize.

Each shortlisted author will receive £2,500 in addition to a hand bound copy of his or her own book. The panel of judges is chosen with the advice of the Booker Prize Foundation Advisory Committee, appointed by The Booker Prize Foundation. The prize is administered by Ion Trewin, Literary Director.

Eligibility criteria

The Man Booker Prize official website states “Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe is eligible. Such a book must be a unified and substantial work.

Authors must be living at the time of the award and no English translation of a book written originally in any other language is eligible.

Self published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically setup to publish that book.

Online submissions will only be accepted from an established imprint and on the condition that seven copies are downloaded for the judges' consideration. In the event that an online book is shortlisted, the publisher must undertake to produce hard copies and make these available for sale within ten days of the announcement of the shortlist.

All shortlisted books will be made available by publishers as e-books within two weeks of the shortlist announcement. Extracts from the e-books should be freely accessible for downloads.

Children's books will only be accepted on the condition that they have also been published by an adult imprint within the specified dates. All entries must be published in the United Kingdom between the required dates but previous publication of a book outside the UK does not disqualify it.

The decision of the Literary Director as to whether a book is eligible shall be binding and no correspondence shall be entered into.

Degree of integrity

What is clear from the complex selection process of both Nobel Prize for Literature and Man Booker Prize is that the impressive institutional mechanism together with a check and balance systems have been put in place to ensure the integrity of awards.

In my view, what is lacking in Sri Lankan literary awards is the integrity of the literary awards. The fact should also bear in mind is that no author writes book for the sake of awards.


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