You may recall the fluttering of the dovecotes in literary London in 2011 occasioned by the remarks made by the chair of judges for that year’s Man Booker Prize, Dame Stella Rimington. Dame Stella had defended a longlist that excluded writers of the calibre of Hari Kunzru, Philip Hensher, Ali Smith and Edward St Aubyn on the grounds that the purpose of the Booker was to “appeal to the average intelligent reader”, confirming in the process the withering judgement of the New Statesman’s lead fiction reviewer, Leo Robson (“You wouldn’t ask John Bayley to be a consultant on Spooks”).
At the time, I wrote a blog about the imbroglio in which I noted: “Some in the literary world are wondering if it isn’t time to start another prize altogether.” A day or two afterwards, a small group of literary agents, writers and journalists announced that they intended to launch a new prize that would “establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence”.
That prize still hasn’t been launched, though I gather an announcement is in the offing. The point about “excellence” and related claims made by the organisers about “quality” and “ambition” seemed to me to leave a number of important questions unanswered (not least how we might go about measuring excellence). I was delighted, therefore, when I was contacted by Blake Morrison and Tim Parnell of Goldsmiths, University of London, who suggested that the New Statesman should collaborate with Goldsmiths on the launch of a literary prize designed to reward fiction that is “genuinely novel and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterises the genre at its best”.
I’m sure I’ll have some vigorous arguments with my fellow judges (Nicola Barker, Gabriel Josipovici and Parnell) about what counts as innovative, groundbreaking or original. That, surely, is all to the good. The closing date for submissions to the Goldsmiths Prize is 22 March. We will announce a shortlist in October.
For more information about the prize, click here.