Thursday, March 31, 2011

Giving back a Booker

The short-list for the Booker International Prize has been released and the only reason I know this is because an Australia's on it. Yay for David Malouf, but the most curious part of the story is the fact that John le Carre asked to withdraw his name from the list, which honours a writer's body of work, because he doesn't "compete for literary prizes". Even curiouser, of course, is the fact that the Prize's chairman (Rick Gekoski, whose own life in books I admire) said no.

So many parts of this short, terse story to explore. Does le Carre not like any prize or just the literary ones given his oft-times relegation to the literary backwoods as both a 'popular' and a 'genre' writer? Would the Booker International seriously award a prize against someone's wishes? What would happen to the money if he won?

I know other authors have refusedor given back honours, awards and prizes. Jean-Paul Satre didn't want the Nobel Prize for Literature saying "a writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form". Indigenous poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (formerly Kath Walker) protested Australia's bicentenary celebrations by returning her MBE. "Next year, 1988, to me marks 200 years of rape and carnage, all these terrible things that the Aboriginal tribes of Australia have suffered without any recognition even of admitted guilt from the parliaments of England … I have therefore decided that as a protest against what the Bicentenary 'Celebrations' stand for, I can no longer, with a clear conscience, accept the English honour of the MBE and will be returning it to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of England…" (cited in Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920 - 1993), 2002).

The idea that honours could be foisted onto a writer whether he wanted it or not simply tickles me. "We're gonna honour you and you're gonna like it!"

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