The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is a very different sort of writing prize – and why not. As the Award’s website explains, ‘The nomination process for the Award is unique as nominations are made by libraries in capital and major cities throughout the world. Participating libraries can nominate up to three novels each year for the Award. Over 400 library systems in 177 countries worldwide were invited to nominate books for the 2014 award.’
Awkwardly, the full list of nominated books becomes the ‘longlist’. In 2015, the longlist is 142 books long. That’s such a long longlist that it tends to devalue the term: ‘congratulations to author A for being longlisted for the IMPAC prize’, sounds more than a little hollow.
To an extent, though, the problem is a matter of perception. Many, many more than 142 novels are published in English in a given year, so to be recognised by librarians — discerning book people on the frontline — is something worth celebrating.
In the meantime, credit to the Award’s administrators for listing all the nominated books. All writing prizes should publish the full list of entered works, not only longlists, shortlists and winners. Not only does the IMPAC publish the full list, it breaks its disclosure down even further by listing the libraries that have nominated books and what those books are. The State Library of South Australia, in my hometown of Adelaide, nominated Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North but also two non-Australians, Kate Atkinson and Philipp Meyer. The other participating Australian libraries — the State Library of Queensland, the National Library of Australia, the State Library of Victoria and the State Library of New South Wales — stuck with Australian nominations: Richard Flanagan (again), Hannah Kent, Melissa Lucashenko, Christos Tsiolkas, Alex Miller, Tim Winton, Chris Womersley and Alexis Wright. It took libraries from other parts of the world to nominate Graeme Simsion and J.M. Coetzee. Again, credit to the Award’s administrators for publicly sharing this information: it’s quite intriguing to see what books librarians in, say, Croatia or Colombo or South Korea favour.
Looking beyond Australia, some libraries have stuck with their own. For example, the Jamaica Library Service’s sole nominee is Jamaican writer A-dZiko Simba Gegele. Other libraries have a mix of local and international nominees. Some have gone wholly international: Barcelona’s Biblioteca Vila de Grácia, Biblioteques de Barcelona, for example, has nominated J.M. Coetzee, Ma Jian and Thomas Pynchon. According the website, 2015 nominations include ’49 novels in translation with works by 37 Americans, 19 British, 9 Canadian, 9 Australian [I count 10, including Coetzee] and 7 Italian authors’. Plus a whole lot of others in smaller numbers . I can’t see it listed anywhere on the website, but my count is 84 men (actually 85, as one book is co-authored) and 58 women.
There’s a great deal more detail to discover about the Award and the many writers nominated — and there are more gaps to consider in what is nevertheless a genuinely international award. For now, one final curiosity: librarians choose the longlist but not the shortlist or the winner. Whatever the reasons for this, the particular and peculiar perspectives (peculiar in a good way) that libraries bring to this exercise becomes diluted.