posted by Karen Burnham at Thursday 28 April 2011 @ 3:20 am BST
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John’s and Paul’s comments, taken together, make me pose a related question to the group:
In a field so award-conscious, what happens to writers – new, veteran and in-between – who, for whatever reasons, never get the award recognition? Sure, getting recognized occasionally is a fine thing, we’d pretty much all agree on that, but what if that spotlight never sweeps your way? We all can think of richly deserving people who’ve never received this award or that award, or any award; how are those people affected by this lack?
In other words, is NOT receiving awards, in the long term, a bigger deal than receiving them?
Bob Hope got comic mileage for years at the Oscars from NOT receiving an Oscar – “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it’s known at my house, Passover” – but there was some real resentment there, I suspect. That’s one reason the cracks were funny: You could sense that they sprang from genuine emotion.
Leigh Brackett used to refer to her Hollywood screenwriting income as “fairy gold”: great when you stumble upon it, but so unpredictable as to be downright capricious, certainly nothing to count on or to base one’s career on. Are awards fairy gold, or are they more baleful in their influence, on the individual and on the field? Are they more like will o’ the wisps, that lead us stumbling into the mire?
I definitely think there is a distorting effect to awards on writers’ self-esteem and self-concept. That was part of what I was trying to say in my comment. And the list of great writers and stories that have never received an award is painful to read. That’s why your quote from Spielberg (not a fave of mine) about Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, etc. is so very well taken.
Despite my pleasure in winning, and the sense of community that awards can foster, I do think we have too many of them, and the best stance for a writer to take, ultimately, is Sterling’s: try not to care. It’s unseemly how much emotional energy and more we can invest in these things. I think one reason Tom Disch wrote his bitter little book on SF, in which he trashed Ursula Le Guin and J.G. Ballard, was unhappiness over the fact that he’d been passed over for every sf award he’s been nominated for, and they, his peers, were famous.
I was at the Boston Worldcon where On Wings of Song was nominated for the Hugo, and the award went to Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise. I thought Disch’s novel was much better, and as I left the auditorium I just happened to be walking beside him. He didn’t know me from Adam; I leaned over to him and said I thought his was much the better book and deserved to win. Disch said, “It’s okay. He’ll die sooner than I.”
I don’t think that was much consolation to Disch. I can’t imagine a writer as fine as he spent a lot of time obsessing about this, but I do think it ate at him at least a little.
Paul has written stories that give me infinitely more pleasure than many that have won awards. And he deserves to have his name spelled right.
As far as I can tell, Ray Bradbury has not won a single award in our field, until his career was at the point where he began to get Lifetime Achievements.
(He got the 1954 Hugo for Fahrenheit 451, but it was awarded in 2004, as one of the Hindsight Hugos…)
Paul Di Filippo
John–your kindly words are all the award I need!
Sorry to devolve the lofty conversation into a love fest!
Paul, if by any chance they accidentally inserted a “z” into your misspelled last name, I’d like to buy that award off of you. I figure it’s the closest any committee will ever come to spelling my last name correctly on an award.
Paul Di Filippo
I think that in this as everything else in art, time will winnow out the wheat from the crap. I’m sure someone out there knows or remembers who won the Hugo for best short story or novel in 1947 (or 1954 or 1970), but I don’t. That doesn’t mean I might not have read & admired them. Novels and stories survive by word of mouth as much as by sales or literary recognition. A hundred years from now, will people read David Foster Wallace as avidly as they now read David Sedaris, or as they read David Copperfield? Literary tastes change, and we’re unfortunately (or fortunately) not in the position to see where that change will leave the works we believe are important. In a global culture where multiliteracy, incorporating myriad forms of post-literate, post-textual narrative, increasingly holds sway, the lifespan of a novel will probably be determined more by its successful transmission to another media (film, app, game, drug) than its literary stature.
I’ve got a closet full of awards. It was fun being nominated and winning them. I’m always surprised and delighted when either event takes place. When all is said and done, I put them away and keep writing. I’m as happy to see my colleagues be nominated and win. If I’m up for one and lose, I try to get in touch with and congratulate the winner. What else is to be done? But there is bitterness and rancor. I’ve had that expressed to me by people concerning my winning the awards I have. They don’t get mad at the juries or the people who voted, but they are pissed off at me for some reason. It’s as if I awarded these things to myself. I’ve never asked anyone ever to vote for me for anything. Who has time? I’m writing and being with my family, teaching five classes a semester, and driving two hours to work and two back. In a way it’s kind of comical how much emphasis people put on these things. And some that are the most bitter and renounce the entire thing, I never see them turn down the nominations or refuse the awards when one comes their way. This, I get an enormous kick out of, but I understand. It’s human nature. As to whether the winning denotes the best poetry, fiction, non-fiction of the year, I most certainly doubt. As Liz says, that’s not really for us to know. Only time will tell. I agree with the others that the awards are basically for the community at large. I get the most pleasure out of seeing newer writers nominated and win or when attention is given to some work I have read and really love. I’m happy to see that the field is opening up somewhat to international voices and that the awards are beginning to follow suit. All that seems good. Should there even be awards? Who knows? I can’t really be bothered trying to figure it out. I’m busy trying to write the next story.
“Should there even be awards? Who knows? I can’t really be bothered trying to figure it out. I’m busy trying to write the next story.”
I think this is the best response possible.
I agree with Jeff (though I don’t have nearly as many awards in my closet!) Thinking about awards can only interfere with your writing. If you’ve won some, you can worry about whether you’ll ever win any more; if you never win any, you might waste a lot of time wondering why, why, why. I’ve had a nice run of nominations for various things in recent years, and while it’s a nice little ego boost every time, I quickly learned to smile and move on and try not to think about it. When I was nominated for a Hugo back in 2007, I didn’t go to the convention in Japan, and didn’t even stay up late at home glued to the internet to see the results. (It helped that I was up against Neil Gaiman, and thus could not possibly win. Imagine my surprise when I
woke to a dozen e-mails saying “Congratulations!” the next day…)
I will note that, practically speaking, winning awards can be a great boon for newer writers. A lot of doors opened for me after I won a Hugo — I started getting invited to more projects, simply because a lot more people in the field discovered that I existed. So there’s that.
I recall someone (maybe Michael Swanwick?) saying the nice thing about winning one of the big awards is… you can stop thinking about it. You’ll always be a Nebula or World Fantasy or Hugo Award-winning writer, so you don’t have to bite your nails and wish and hope this year will be YOUR year every time the ballots come out. For me, winning a Hugo did defuse any envy or jealousy I had over seeing friends get nominated and win — I’ve got mine. I can simply be happy for them. (Of course, ideally I would have simply been happy for them all along, but I can be a small and petty man at times.)
Not that I’d say no if I ever got nominated again. But it won’t bother me if I don’t ever have another work nominated, let alone win. (At least, I don’t think so. Ask me again in ten years.)
What Cat said, bearing in mind that Jeff’s healthy mindset is, in my experience, the exception and not the rule. I’ve attended my share of awards ceremonies and, like others in this discussion, been on awards juries; I’ve seen the trembling gratitude of those who win, and the equally palpable despair of those who don’t. All of which is doubly ironic when, to follow up on Liz’s earlier comment, we might ask ourselves who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1947 or 1954, and have no answer readily at hand.
But to shift gears slightly, let’s also not forget about the readers, for whom, as has already been pointed out, awards have their uses. Publishers, too. Whatever Pulitzer Prize winners are still in print no doubt benefit from being able to put “Pulitzer Prize winner” on their covers.
I have a clutch of awards and I enjoyed winning them, but not only do they not make much difference in the long run, they don’t even make much difference in the short run. A week later there you are, back wrestling with whatever you were writing before you got on a plane to go to some other city for the award ceremony. The current book still needs writing. The dog still throws up on the carpet. The dinner still needs cooking. All the sweetnesses or sournesses of daily life remain utterly untouched, and the characters in whatever I’m writing now are the ones I’m living with; the ones in the award story are long gone, like dead relatives.
I’ve been on various panels whose “deliberations” give birth to awards; and I’ve won some awards. The knowledge about the selection crapshoot that one gathers as a panelist, or someone who follows voting patterns in electorate-generated awards, is rationally incompossible with the joy of finding oneself a winner. This could be called cognitive dissonance, or the natural expression of Social Darwinism in a member of a highly aggressive species, or whatever. But I’m probably not exactly alone in feeling I would welcome the chance to experience it all over again. We may not be very good at reality as a species: but we do know how to surf.
I really like being involved in the nomination process because it gives me a kick in the butt to get out there and read everything I’ve neglected to read all year. I love seeing the lists other people put together of fiction that energizes them; I love reading the material and feeling up to speed; I love conversations happening around fiction.
After I do my daily housekeeping/noveling, I’m planning to send in a list of some of my favorite stuff from this year that didn’t get nominated. (Although I’ll say here and now that I’m really surprised there wasn’t more love for Charles Yu! I’ll just have to be extra super excited about his work to make up for it. ;-) )
Brett wrote: “Whatever Pulitzer Prize winners are still in print no doubt benefit from being able to put ‘Pulitzer Prize winner’ on their covers.”
Years ago, Russell Baker spoke to a gathering of his fellow Pulitzer winners, and he began his talk by saying something to the effect of, “Well, at least we all know what the first three words of our obits will be.”
What Kessel said. I too got some awards early on but what good are they since nobody nominates me or even bothers to read my shit anymore, not that I give a damn, since they are all a bunch of brainless puppies, but I do have feelings, which is why I locked Nancy’s dog in Jeffrey’s closet.
Terry, you should get an award just for being you. An annual event.
But Terry, at least that last line was the first e-mail I’ve gotten all year that actually had me laughing out loud. And if I’m not mistaken, the last story that had me laughing out loud was yours, too.
In answer to Ellen’s earlier question, Mark Kelly keeps a tally of these things on the Locus website, and here’s some Hugo trivia:
Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, Lester del Rey; Gregory Benford, Norman Spinrad
Never Even Nominated: Michael Moorcock, Paul J. McAuley, Tim Powers, J.G. Ballard
For the Nebulas:
Never Won : Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, R.A. Lafferty; Dan Simmons, Neal Stephenson, Tim Powers, Vernor Vinge, John Brunner
Never Even Nominated: Greg Egan, Paul J. McAuley, Stephen Baxter, Iain M. Banks, Christopher Priest, Rudy Rucker, Sheri S. Tepper
Karen Joy Fowler
It is true that awards don’t often change much in your life, but the only way to know this for sure is to win some. So what changes is that you now know this, that awards don’t change your life and knowing this turns out actually to be a big change. It’s sort of a zen koan. It’s like publishing — I can tell my students that a writer is a person who writes, but they will believe that a writer is a person who publishes up until the day they publish.
It’s still very very nice to win or be nominated. I can agree that you are still the same person with that same sink full of dirty dishes and that same plot problem and those same lousy sales figures, but it’s also true that the awards attention I’ve gotten has been enormously and importantly encouraging. I suspect I would have found it painful to never see myself on an awards list.
But a writer never lacks for ways to feel misunderstood and unappreciated. We don’t even have to go looking for them! They seek us out in our very own homes, find us in our pajamas at our very own computers. Early in my career I went to an event where I met a lot of professional writers, many of them people I’d read, admired, and envied for years. I spent the evening listening to them talk to one another and came home thinking to myself, okay, I guess I still want this, but apparently it isn’t going to make me happy, after all.
A few years ago, I was discussing with then-officers of the HWA the benefits a writer might enjoy by being able to put “Winner of the Bram Stoker Award” on the cover of his award-winning book. They said that sales usually declined for books so decorated.
I have no idea what data they based their observations on, or whether there is any truth to this. But the idea was that any book that found favor with a wide enough readership to become an award-winner was immediately suspect as being very middle of the road and unimaginative.
That reminds me of something one of my editors told me about the New York Times: he claimed if you get a good review in the Times, your sales go up. But that if you get a bad review, your sales go up even more. Ideally, you want a negative review so scathing and damning that people have to buy the book just to see if it could possibly be that bad.
I have to admit to having gone enough years as an “also ran” in terms of winning awards to have been a little shocked when I actually won something, and wondering, before I actually got around to cashing the prize money, what was wrong with the book that actually allowed it to win. Having been on prize committees since, I guess I feel that sometimes it’s a negotiation between strong-willed and diametrically opposed judges which leads to the safest book coming to the fore, but that this happens much less often than anyone outside of the process tends to think. I’ve been pleasantly shocked by how often it works out to give the award to a great book, though also disappointed by some of the books get passed over for finalists or for prizes. And thinking about how Tim Powers (for instance) has been passed over by both the Hugo and the Nebula does make me think that maybe Schopenhauer was right to suggest that the moral and intellectual qualities of dogs are more refined than those of humans (or at least of certain judges).
Bah, Schopenhauer! What did he ever win?
Gary’s list of the never-nominated reminds me that Frederik Pohl groused to me years ago, when I interviewed him at SFRA, that his classic story “Day Million” hadn’t even earned a Nebula nomination at the time of publication, and that was in the day when only three votes were needed to make the ballot. One problem was that “Day Million” first appeared not in an sf magazine or anthology but in Rogue, a men’s magazine, and most of the SFWA membership therefore didn’t see it. Getting the voters to look beyond the stuff readily at hand remains a problem.
Paul: If he did, it would just leave him depressed.
Andy: You mean they weren’t buying Rogue to read the fiction?
Gary’s post makes me feel much better about never having been nominated for or won anything, so much so that I’ve changed my mind about writing that book denouncing my colleagues as frauds and my chosen field of endeavor as a sham.
Andy’s post reminds us of how there are inescapably so many factors that lie outside the text. I suspect the issue of a work being in an out-of-the-way venue may not be as much of an issue as it once was–if “Day Million” had been published last year, there would almost certainly be a link to it somewhere online. What is more of an issue, in my experience on juries, is the sheer number of books and stories published, and the nagging feeling that you’ve missed something, somewhere.