Literary prizes are one of the wider agencies involved in book marketing, and are not, on the whole, initiated, let alone controlled, by publishers. Nonetheless, prizes still play a crucial role in the interaction between genre and the marketplace, and are one of the forces that come to influence notions of cultural value and literariness. Ostensibly, what every book award might claim to do is to recognise and reward value. A corollary part of this mission is, then, the promotion of the winner or winners: literary prizes can bring relatively unknown writers to public recognition, enhance the reputation of already established authors, turn the attention of the media to books, and so support the consumption of literature generally. As such, the role of literary prizes is already more complex than as an index of literary achievement, and they have a broad range of motivations and implications.1 Moreover, awarding a prize to a book acts not only to indicate value, but also to confer it. Value is thus doubly constructed in the realm of literary prizes. Yet even before the role of literary prizes in constituting notions of value is assessed, and the contingent nature of value examined, the organisational structures of prizes suggest how they contribute to genre definition and literary categorisation. The entry requirements for each prize provide the key to this. The Booker Prize, for example, ‘aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a British or Commonwealth author’.2 The novel must also be originally written in English and published by a UK-based publishing house. The definition that the prize gives is to do with national and regional identity, and also the market through which the novel has been published. This definition has contributed to analyses of the Booker Prize as promoting post-colonial writing from within the context of UK cultural imperialism.3 What is of greater direct impact on the definition of genre, though, is the first part of the description: ‘the best novel’. This may seem at first glance to be an absolute definition (within the already circumscribed entry requirements), but by placing it alongside the entry requirements of other prizes its function with regard to genre becomes apparent. A brief survey of the ‘Prizes and Awards’ section of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook yields, among others, a list including the Boardman Tasker Prize (for the best book ‘concerned with the mountain environment’), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (for ‘best science fiction novel’), the Betty Trask Award (for the best first novels ‘of a romantic or traditional nature’), the Crime Writers’ Association ‘Daggers’ (for best crime writing), the Encore Award (for ‘best second novel’), the Lichfield Prize (for the best novel ‘based recognisably on the geographical area of Lichfield District, Staffordshire’), the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year (for the best book by ‘any author of Scottish descent or living in Scotland, or for a book by anyone which deals with the work or life of a Scot or with a Scottish problem, event or situation’).4 Some, such as the Arthur C. Clarke and the Crime Writers’ Association awards use traditional genre definitions, while others choose quite different categorisations. What these entry requirements do, be they stated in terms of the book’s subject matter, genre, or author biography, is to indicate a series of relative ‘bests’. It is in this comparative light that Booker’s definition of ‘the best novel’ acquires generic implications. For the Booker is awarded to the best non-genre novel or, in other words, the best ‘literary’ novel. By not naming the category, though, what the Booker does is to confirm the ‘literary’ novel at the top of genre hierarchies. The phrase ‘best novel’ equates with ‘best literary novel’, and so it is implied that the winner of the Booker is better than the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke.
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