New Book Award Offers Public's Stamp of Approval
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now the business of books. Several prestigious book awards are given out this week, and this year joining the list is a new award voted on by the reading public. Martha Woodroof of member station WMRA reports.
MARTHA WOODROOF reporting:
There are plenty of book awards--the Pulitzer, the PEN/Faulkner, the National Book Award--but these don't involve the reading public in their voting process. The Quill Awards project a more inclusive feel, but they also have a strong marketing whiff about them. Gerry Byrne is chair of the Quill Literary Foundation.
Mr. GERRY BYRNE (Chair, Quill Literary Foundation): Really what we saw as an opportunity was to create something unique that is a hybrid of a--you know, call it a readers' choice award, but it's really pre-qualified by people who are qualified in the industry.
WOODROOF: Six thousands book sellers and librarians nominated almost a hundred books, but readers have the final vote. With this populist approach, Byrne has placed himself at the center of a literary flap.
Mr. BYRNE: I probably even shouldn't bring this up, but the number of people who have contacted me throughout the process this past couple of years and saying to me, you know, `How dare you?' And I'd say, `How dare I what?' And there are so many people who, when it comes to literature and the written word, are snobs.
Mr. BENJAMIN SCHWARZ (Literary Editor, The Atlantic Monthly): I don't think there's anything wrong with being a snob, if by being a snob you mean you are holding something to a very high standard.
WOODROOF: Benjamin Schwarz, literary editor of The Atlantic Monthly, has nothing against the Quills. He worries about the impact of all book awards.
Mr. SCHWARZ: If you're a very busy person, and you think, `I don't know what's out there. I'm only going to make my selection based on what was short-listed for the National Book Awards, say,' then those awards do carry enormous commercial power, and they have a way of freezing out other books.
WOODROOF: The Quills hope to spread that commercial power around. Their 19 categories include sports, graphic novels, self-help and romance. The awards have corporate muscle behind them: Read Business Information, which owns Publishers Weekly and a couple of book publishing houses. NBC News anchor Brian Williams is hosting the red-carpet event. The network will broadcast it on October 22nd.
With the other award announcements this week, the Quills face tough competition for the public's notice. But Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, says remember Oprah.
Ms. SARA NELSON (Editor, Publishers Weekly): If you had said, `Do you think that an African-American talk-show host out of Chicago was going to change the course of publishing?' you know, I think most people would have said no. But Oprah is Oprah.
WOODROOF: And the Quills will copy one of Oprah's more visible marketing strategies. Winning books will sport identifying stickers. For NPR News, I'm Martha Woodroof.
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
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