All the submissions for The Green Carnation Prize 2013 are now in and somewhere in each of the judges homes is the winner of The Green Carnation 2013, yet how will the judges reach that decision?
This year’s Green Carnation Prize judges have confirmed their criteria for selecting the 2013 award for LGBT writing. Chair of judges Uli Lenart said: ‘It has been an illuminating process outlining exactly what we think makes an award-winning book and for the judges to discuss and clarify the four key qualities we are looking for.” Here he explains more about that process and the panel’s criteria:
How does a person set about the task of judging a literary prize? Or a book for that matter? Indeed, is that even possible or appropriate? Isn’t judging, after all, something we shouldn’t do? Nevertheless the truth is we all judge, and we do so continuously. It is, in fact, a process on which civilized society is founded: the discernment of what it is that we esteem. It is what art and culture are all about: “I love that painting” or “I like how she writes, but I never really got to care about the characters…” We are always sifting, searching for gems to cherish.
Yet, just as we embark on our mission to select books we think worthy of recognition, we arrive, inevitably, at the issue of personal taste: subjectivity. We all like different things. That said, the virtue of judging on a literary prize is that you have a panel of peers with whom you face and explore that mountain of books. But what, collectively, are we looking for? What elements in the way a writer constructs their narrative, creates a sense of tone, or uses language, are we actually searching for? With this in mind, the judges discussed and ratified our criteria for the 2013 Green Carnation Prize. This is what we settled on…
ORIGINALITY – EXCELLENCE – READABILITY – RESONANCE
ORIGINALITY – we are excited about the prospect of finding something fresh, something innovative, something different. It could be the subject-matter selected, the author’s treatment of it, the way in which they use words to create an inventive new appreciation of the nature of an emotion, or of an issue. We like the idea of a work with its own individual identity that creates something new and eccentrically itself.
EXCELLENCE- this sounds like a grand and noble aspiration but is, in fact, rather inexact and, again, subjective. But excellence is what we are looking for none-the-less. Excellence in the craft of writing, composition, form, story-telling, plotting, of interrogating the material. Every decision about how writing is constructed has an effect; forms the nuance of a meaning. We are looking for writing that executes this with intelligence and artistry, and a writer who varies and sustains this throughout the different landscapes of their narrative.
READABILITY – we appreciate literature that flows, that is a pleasure to read, that sustains the reader’s attention; that absorbs and involves you so you hardly notice yourself turning the pages. We are talking about fluidity, believability, tension, excitement, drive. Ideas can, and should, challenge us but the process of reading, we feel, is to be enjoyed.
RESONANCE – now this is a slightly delicate criterion. It does not mean that a book is guaranteed to resonate with you, but that it should resonate with itself; to articulate its themes as well as its meaning vibrantly, vividly and beautifully. The judges had initially discussed using the criteria ‘emotivity’ – we wanted to find writing that we felt as well as understood. But how can you apply this to non-fiction? So it is resonance we are looking for, in conjunction with the other criteria.
I suppose the pink elephant in the room is the fact that the Green Carnation is a prize that specifically celebrates the work of LGBT writers. Would it not make sense therefore to look for something quintessentially queer? Even if that quality does exist, the Green Carnation is not a prize for writing with just LGBT content or themes. It is a prize that celebrates the incredible contribution of LGBT people to our (everyone’s) collective treasure-trove of excellent writing. That said, work by LGBT writers could be argued to share a certain sensibility, a certain quality, an independence of perspective or sensitivity, perhaps. It isn’t really good to generalise, but – much like judging, we all do it a bit, don’t we?