And we've been happy with the results. Our last few winners (Colm Toibin, Joyce Carol Oates, Amitav Ghosh) have attracted the public and received a good deal of press attention. Oates and Ghosh have published some solid work since their wins, too. (Toibin only won six months ago, so we should give the guy some room!)
|Joyce Carol Oates, winner in 2012|
The down side if, of course, that the independence of the jury limits certain aspects of the
prize. In past years, we typically alternated between awarding the prize to a Francophone one year and an Anglophone the next year. But with an independent jury, that doesn't always work, particularly given the criteria of our prize (especially since we change our jury each year). Letting a jury decide, though, allows us to get a winner who represents more than just our own opinions in the office about who should win. We want people to think of the prize as a community of readers who award it with jury members composed of journalists, editors, cultural workers and even politicians.
|Carlos Fuentes, winner in 2005|
So while the prize is given to the writer, it's less about ranking or grading work or individuals than it is about putting a temporary spotlight on a writer or on his or her work for the world to have a chance to look along with us. It's about quality, of course, but there's a lot more to it than that: it's about writers who are contributing to the literary milieu, but it's also about availability, innovation, tradition, stage presence, and attracting the public. So "the work" is only one part of a larger picture. At any rate, most of our prizes (we have two others) are for a body of work which means something different than a prize for a single work.
|Paul Auster, winner in 2004|
Another thing I've been told by a few winners that they haven't accepted our award because it pays X $ amount but because it means something in a larger context. Anyway, most of our laureates could ask a lot more to appear in public than our prize pays them, but they still come happily...