When it comes to the literature and to the arts in general, it is hard to judge, what is beautiful and creative and what is horrible and tasteless. What was popular and admired yesterday, might be called tawdry later. Besides, today’s concepts of art are quite blurred: one person writes a long novel with thrilling sudden twists in plot and charismatic heroes and deep philosophical insight, while the other thinks of 2 lines only and publishes them in a book of 300 pages, 299 of which are completely blank – and both of them consider their books to be the works of art. Moreover, literature critics also consider both of them as writers.
Perhaps the modern concepts of art are one of the causes of anxiety and mistrust towards the literature prizes. And we are not only talking about the readers, who often judge the quality of the books differently than professional critics. We are talking about writers. About those, who got the awards and those, who did not. What do they say?
After Mary Lee Settle, the novelist, won the National Book Award, she commented on it: “One of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had.” That surely does not sound as total satisfaction with judgment of the critics. The problem is that often, for one or another reason, critics approve those works, which their authors do not consider as great ones. At the same time, critics often leave real masterpieces without any award. And that, according to June Jordan, the writer and activist, the only kind of validation that makes sense in the literary world. He said these bitter words as Toni Morrison’s novel, “Beloved”, did not win the National Book Award.
Why would there be so much fuss about the literary awards? Is it so hard to distinguish mediocrity from talent? And that is where the shoe pinches. The arguments on whether fair or unfair the award was will never stop, because… what right do the critics have to define, which book is better than the other? How do readers define, whether critics’ taste is flawless? There is no single standard of a perfect book. That means, that, for example, the Nobel Prize (a huge amount of money, by the way) is usually given to some lucky guy, whose book may not be the best among the works of other candidates, but it simply may be relevant to the taste of critics.
Can we do anything so that literary awards could be more fair? It’s highly doubtful. But, at least, the fact, that awards are given away subjectively, allows those writers, who consider themselves unrecognized geniuses, dream of the day, when the readers will suddenly realize, how talented their works are.