So it’s been announced – the founders* of the Literature Prize have teamed up with specialist publishers the Folio Society to create the brand new Folio Prize.
The Literature Prize (now the Folio) was created from the fallout of the 2011 Booker Prize, when the prize was dismissed as “dumbing down” and the fall of the Booker was gloomily predicted as critics denounced it as celebrating popularity over quality.
For me, the prize is nothing to shake a stick at – with an astounding £40,000 up for grabs, the winner will be chosen by five judges, drawn by lots from the 112-strong academy members (though none are obliged to judge, and cannot judge their own book if it gets nominated). Books published between 1st January 2013 and 31st December are all eligible, and picks are whittled down from a potential 336 titles (each academy member puts forward 3 titles each) to a mere 60, with a further 20 chosen from nominations put forward by publishers and imprints (5 nominations each).
One founding member, Andrew Kidd, has tried to explain the thinking behind such a venture: “We’re just looking for the books that are the most perfect realisation of the author’s intent… We’re not discriminating against the way the stories are told, not against genre. The public still values the idea of excellence – look how excited we all were by the Olympics, by achieving at the highest level. There’s nothing elitist about that. It’s inspiring… Elitism implies that we are trying to keep people out; we’re actually trying to connect to as many people as possible, to get as many people in. It shouldn’t feel remotely fusty, but energetic and alive.”
The Prize is going to be built on foundations of transparency and integrity, and has a constitution and charitable trust to prove it.
The size of the prize puts it high up in literary-prize stakes, and they clearly mean business, with an initial agreement for two years, and the potential for more – Folio Society managing director Toby Hartwell promised: “We’re in it for the long haul. Prizes take a long time to bed in with the public” and has explained on The Guardian’s blog why the Folio Prize is so needed.
But is another literary prize what we need?
Each prize, all lauded for valid and different reasons, often find themselves repeating each other in the shortlists and winners. If we were expected to read each and every nominee, we may find ourselves treading over familiar ground, and never any time to read picks of our own between the cycle of awards. So is this new Folio Prize, and its convoluted selection process, the way forward? Has the Booker really lost its way and needs to be replaced?
I am desperate to see how this new prize pans out – from who will be nominated, to who will be judging to who will win (though I’m going to have to wait until 2014 for that). I think a lot rests on its first offering. Having set the bar so high, the nominees certainly need to live up to the promises. I love that the Folio Society has signed up; I rate their ethics and (naturally) their beautiful, lovingly-crafted books – they are a bibliophile’s dream – and think that with their reputation this prize is on the right track; but I’m now looking to this unfamiliar entity, the academy, who have the task of making this first round a success, and wondering what it is they will bring to the table.
For a more in-depth look, The Bookseller has explained how the new prize is laid out – from the prize’s inception over coffees, to the academy (including the likes of Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith), to the values behind the venture.
What do you think about the new Folio Prize?
*Director Andrew Kidd from Aitken Alexander; publisher Jason Arthur from William Heinemann, Hutchinson and Windmill; editorial director Kate Harvey from Picador; and director Georgia Garrett Rogers, Coleridge & White.