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Who Should Have Won? A Writer's Spectator Sport

Read more from G&A: The Contest Blog

A blog from: Poets & Writers Magazine

Posted by Prize Reporter on 5.01.09

Last month, Dave Davies, senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, interviewed author Bruce Weber about the finer points of being a baseball umpire for NPR's Fresh Air. Weber, a New York Times reporter, trained to be a professional umpire for three years in order to write As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires (Scribner, 2009). One of the interesting things they discussed is what happens when an umpire is confronted by an angry player or coach who doesn't agree with a call. The bottom line: Any amount of complaining isn't going to make the ump change his mind.

The same can be said for the much more private spectacle of a judge naming the winner of a literary prize. Certainly not everyone can agree with the decision, but the judge is the final arbiter—and therefore the call stands.

Can you think of a recent call in "the ball park of writing contests" that made you want to explode out of the dugout, get in the umpire's face, and plead your case?

Perhaps it was last year's Nobel Prize in Literature selection. Even before French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was named winner, the former secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, started a firestorm of controversy when he criticized American writers in an interview with the Associated Press, noting that U.S. authors are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," and that the quality of their work suffers as a result.

New Yorker editor David Remnick, for one, kicked some dirt on the umpire for that one: “You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures," he said.

Without going all Lou Pinella here (obviously great respect and admiration is due the winners as well as the judges of writing contests—after all, they do what they do for the love of literature) have there been recent contests you'd like to have seen go a different way? Who should have won (besides yourself, of course) the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, or the National Book Critics Circle Award?

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