The JLR, which William Boyd and AL Kennedy credit with setting their careers on track, was eloquently lamented by Margaret Drabble on the Guardian's blog last week, but many, I suspect, will greet its loss with a shrug. The Spectator's blog asks, starkly, "Should the state be funding literary prizes?" Reasonable question.
If we think public money is worth spending on literature (I think it is, although some disagree), a question arises. Obviously, you would like to give grants to struggling writers as well as big prizes for the best. But in lean times, you have to weigh their relatives values: the hand-up or the hand-out.
Some years ago, I helped judge the Forward prize for poetry. The ratio of diamond to dunghill made the eyes water: lousy pamphlets by tin-eared numpties, most of which would never have made it into print had their publishers not subsisted on Arts Council grants. I found myself thinking that, if a goodly portion of those grants could go to the Forward and its like instead, it might do the world of letters a world of good. After all, a grant – well chosen – is a sort of prize. Public bodies give grants to writers on the basis of merit, both perceived and potential, not because writing is in and of itself a good thing regardless of who's doing it.
Yet there persists a pseudo-high-minded point of view that dismisses literary prizes as worthless PR gewgaws: "posh bingo", in Julian Barnes's often-quoted description of the Man Booker. Prizes, this line of reasoning goes, are shallow, showy things in which members of that hated cabal the London literary establishment dole out gongs to their pals. And then money that could be spent on struggling artists is directed into getting those same 300 people drunk.
Full piece at The Guardian.