Monday, September 8, 2008

Junot Diaz Wins Dayton Peace Prize

...but is it one prize too many?

Junot Diaz is quickly becoming Michael Phelps of American fiction. Like Phelps, the American swimmer who famously took home 8 gold medals at this year’s Beijing Olympics, Junot Diaz The Dominican-American novelist has already won two major US fiction prizes – the Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle Award – as well as the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize for his novel The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao. Today, he can add to his collection the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

The Prize is awarded for “Celebrating the power of literature to promote peace and non-violent conflict resolution.” It was founded in 2006 as an offshoot of the Dayton Peace Prize, commemorating the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords ending the war in Bosnia.

As I’m serving on the committee of judges for a different book prize this year – The Dylan Thomas Prize – and we’re going to be selecting the shortlist on Wednesday, I’ve been dwelling on the question of what criteria should prizes be judged beyond the criteria laid out by the prizes guidelines.

In the case of the DTP, I have come to the conclusion that the 60,000 pound award is just as much to applaud a writer for the book they’ve written, as to give them the opportunity to write more. To me it’s saying “I want to read more from this writer."

In the case of the Dayton Prize, Diaz more than deserving– his book concerns the brutal legacy of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo and its aftermath of those who lived to tell about it.

I only wonder if the judging committee might have considered just how many awards a book has already garnered before making a final decision?

Surely, giving the prize to Diaz is guaranteed to get coverage. I only worry that it’s a symptom of self perpetuating cycle that’s not necessarily the best for developing readers. It goes without saying that many people will have already read Diaz's book and will not turn to the book for it having won this award alone. The runner up in the fiction category, Daniel Alarcon’s “Lost City Radio” is another fine book and one that would surely have benefitted from an added boost in publicity.

Or to use a yet another sports analogy: It’s a bit like the LA Galaxy paying $250 million to recruit David Beckham to play soccer in America, when what the sport really needs to create a new, homegrown star.

Then again, all my concerns may be besides the point. A good book deserves as much recognition as can be mustered. After all, this year’s Dayton Peace Price for nonfiction was Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying – which also, as it happened, won a National Book Critic’s Circle Award last year as well.

But you us, what do you think? Is piling prizes on a single book redundant for readers?

1 comment:

Andrew Wilkins said...

I've got another criteria for the Dylan Thomas Prize, Ed, although it may be harder to apply. It would be nice if the winning work could somehow embody something of the great man (and notorious boozer) after which the prize is named. Not a carbon copy, of course, but perhaps a work by a writer who shows a particular ear for the music of language, or is particularly adept at conjouring the magic of the everyday. Just a thought. Thomas is one of my very favourite writers.