Friday, 18 March 2016

The "First Time"? Maybe Not

This year, a couple of local (Malaysian) novels were nominated for the 2016 Dublin International Literary Awards (DILA, formerly the Dublin IMPAC International Literary Awards): Tree of Sorrow, by Malim Ghazoli PK and The Michelangelo Code by Nazehran Jose Ahmad. Both, I understand, are English translations of the originals in Malay.

An official from the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (National Institute of Language and Literature), told The Malay Mail Online that "both the novels were nominated by the Malaysian National Library and that this is the first time that local novels have been included for the awards."

Well... if they're the first local novels included for the awards after the name change in November 2015, yes. If the DILA is a new award that's different from the Dublin IMPAC, with different criteria and categories, yes.

But it doesn't look that way. For one, why are the previous longlists still archived?

A search shows that in 2015, John Solomon and The Fifth Island (Samuill Tiew/Monopoly Publications) was longlisted; and in 2013, DUKE (Rozlan Mohd Noor/Silverfish) and The Dulang Washer (Paul Callan/MPH Group Publishing) got in. These were published by Malaysian publishers and also nominated by the National Library of Malaysia. Aren't these local titles?

Also: two titles by Khoo Kheng-Hor: Taikor (2006) and Sifu (2011). I think these were published by Pelanduk. Tunku Halim's Dark Demon Rising made it as early as 1999. Aren't these local too?

So I don't think it is the first time local novels have been included for the awards. Was someone misquoted? Did someone transcribe something wrongly? Or has somebody not been doing homework?

As it turned out, IMPAC, the American company that jointly sponsors the award with the Dublin City Council, had apparently gone defunct in the late-2000s and the trust fund that supports the award had been wound up. The 2015 prize was entirely funded by the Dublin City Council while a new sponsor was being sought.

One of the councillors, Mannix Flynn, suggested the name of the title be changed to relect the departure of IMPAC as a sponsor. From the Irish Times:

"It should be called the Dublin City Council City of Literature award or at least it should denote that the city backs the award [FINANCIALLY]," he said, adding the money might alternatively be spent in other areas.

"There is absolutely no sign of a [NEW]sponsor whatsoever on this. It's a grandiose gesture when you have a city that is suffering from great austerity and the vast majority of artists are living well below the poverty line."

So it's now the DILA, minus the IMPAC. It's kind of like how the Orange Prize for Fiction became the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, when Bailey's (yes, that Irish Cream one) stepped up after the telco firm Orange withdrew.

But if Councillor Flynn is correct about Dublin's situation, the future of the award, once described as "the most eclectic and unpredictable of the literary world's annual gongs", looks bleak without backers. How long can Dublin's city council be able to keep the award going by itself?

Unfair as it may sound, many prizes and awards in the arts are propped up by private sponsors. The implications of this - and the question of what makes somebody's work "world-renowned" and whether this needs to be redefined - is probably better explored in another post or forum, if it isn't already.


Post a Comment

Got something to say? Great!