There was a brouhaha in New Zealand recently about the judges in the Montana Book Awards issuing a shortlist of four contenders for the fiction category, rather than the expected five. Now the judges of the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, for which my short story collection Transported (which you can buy online through Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad, or in person at an increasing range of bookshops) was longlisted, have gone one better: they have decided to dispense with the shortlist entirely and award the prize to Jhumpa Lahiri for her collection Unaccustomed Earth. This means that five other writers are denied the opportunity of their books appearing on the shortlist, with the consequent publicity and potential sales this would bring.
The arguments for and against this move are pretty much the same as for the Montana. On the one hand, the judges are appointed to make their decision based on their experience, and that decision should respected; on the other, getting shortlisted for awards can be a lifeline for less well-known authors – this is certainly the case for the Montanas. But, having said that the decision on the Montanas should be left to the judges, I have to be consistent and say that it’s their call here as well. If Unaccustomed Earth was so much better than the competition, then it’s only fair it should win.
But there’s one point on which I do take issue with the judges: according to the Guardian, they said that
With a unanimous winner at this early stage we decided it would be a sham to compose a shortlist and put five other writers through unnecessary stress and suspense.
I have to say, judges: you could have put me through the stress and suspense of being on the shortlist, and I wouldn’t have complained one bit. I would have been very grateful!