Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Asian Judges for Asian Prize?

Yesterdays' Star Two carried an article from the Straits Times by Stephanie Yap about the current controversy raging over the Man Asian Literary Prize which began when Nury Vittachi accused the organisers of racial insensitivity .
At the heart of the current controversy over the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize is just how “Asian” its judging panel should be.

According to the chairman of the new prize, Peter Gordon, it should be about rewarding good writing, and the races and nationalities of its judges are irrelevant.

“Asian is a geographical description, and I don’t think one wants to read any more significance into it than that. Do you need to be Russian to appreciate Dostoevsky?”

The Hong Kong-based publisher was in Singapore recently to put out a call for submissions for the inaugural award. He is director of the Hong Kong Literary Festival, which is organising the US$10,000 (RM36,000) Man Asian prize. It is sponsored by hedge fund manager Man Group, which also presents the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

The three judges for the Asian prize, all writers, are: André Aciman, an Egyptian based in New York; Adrienne Clarkson, a Chinese Canadian; and Nicholas José, a Eurasian Australian who has lived in China and is fluent in Mandarin.

But popular Hong Kong writer Nury Vittachi says the panel did not truly reflect voices from Asia.

”They are Western Asians, not Asian authors in Asia. Some of them look Asian, but that’s not the point. To have a truly international panel, you need Asians as well as Westerners.”
Who do you think is right? Should an Asian prize be judged by Asian judges?


I'm really grateful to Ron for pointing me in the direction of this post on Literary Saloon which tosses all the questions up in the air and then adds a few of its own. It also takes issue with the definition of "Asia" in the competitions rules awarding the organisers an F for Geography.


Madcap Machinist said...

Your link to Vittachi's article is broken, nevertheless without reading it my flash vote goes to Vittachi.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks reza. fixed.

but all this begs the question, how asian is asian actually?

how do you actually judge that judges are asian enough? is being asian in the genes, in the length of time lived in asia?

if by some miracle you were asked to judge a british literary prize, machinist, would you feel your asianess a disqualification?

Jeffrey Hardy Quah said...

I may be overreacting, but am I the only one who feels that it's a tiny bit patronising to have Western judges pat Asian writers on the head? Just a smidgen.

As for Nury Vittachi's complaints, I can't say if I agree with her or not without knowing what exactly the criteria for the prize are. Is the panel judging a book based on its "Asianness" (whatever that means), or whether it's a good book that happens to be written by an Asian?

But really, anything that encourages writing and gives writers lots of money has to be a good thing, right?

Amir said...

Isn't Nury's beef something else entirely, as he was one of the founders of the prize who then got sidelined? I think you blogged about this before.

And what business does a Ceylonese (married to an Englishwoman) have in writing books like "The Feng Shui Detective" anyway?


Kenny Mah said...

I think the most important qualification would be that the judges are able to critique and analyse good quality writing (which is subjective anyway) rather than be Asian themselves. Is there such a thing as Asian writing anyway?

What if someone decides to disqualify Sharon simply because of her nationality? I doubt there are many Asian authors around who are as involved and passionate about writing (including but not limited to the so-called "Asian writing") as she is. So where's the rationale in that?

Madcap Machinist said...

I wouldn't think my being Asian disqualifies me from anything because otherwise I'd start discriminating against myself!

The prize is to be awarded to an author that is a citizen (but not necessarily a resident) of an Asian country. The work that is being considered will be judged on the merits of good writing, however that will be, and yes in this case I agree with Gordon that the race and nationality of the judge is irrelevant, as long as the judge fulfills the criteria of an expert, starting with the ability to read and write in English and so on.

However, this issue is about representation, and none of the judges are from an Asian nation.

How would anyone feel if there is an intergalactic book prize for authors on Earth and all the judges are from Mars and Venus?

What, there isn't one person good/interested enough from 'here', out of 60% of the world's population, that can be a judge?

And what does that say about the eventual winner of the prize?

Tunku Halim said...

I don't think it matters where the judges are from . . . it's more their experience that counts. Have long have been in an Asian country, are they aware of its varied customs, history and traditions?

Importantly, would they see the merits of Asian writing different from Western writing?

Ron said...

I think there are good points made at the Literary Saloon particularly on the definition of an Asian country towards the end of the article.

sympozium said...

The best man/woman for the job, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation.

Argus Lou said...

I read in a copy of The Straits Times a while ago that Nury's beef (sorry for the tasteless metaphor!) was also about two of the contest administrators (organising panel) being a husband and wife pair from one publishing company which he had a slight falling-out with.
Rather full of komplikasi!

Having said that, I'd prefer to have judges - whatever their lineage or country of residence or choice of spouse - who have something meaningful to do with Asia and have read A LOT of 'good Asian lit'.

bibliobibuli said...

sympozium, argus lou - i think you both say it right.

tunku halim - agree. asian lit isn't or shouldn't be different from western lit except perhaps in its focus.

and no one judge could be said to represent asia as a whole given its size and diversity