Everyone’s a winner
The Newbery Award is one hundred years old this year. Reading an article about the award and its 100 winners got me thinking about prizes, their importance and impact. I should say that prizes have been a big part of my professional life (though, sadly, not as a recipient). Publishers I’ve worked for have sponsored prizes; authors I’ve published have won them. I’ve been a judge myself (Costa Children’s Book Award 2015 – a big year). I’ve been part of the team behind the Branford Boase Award since 2012 and am currently running the Klaus Flugge Prize. And, most pertinent here, I’m delighted to say that this will be my third year working for CLPE on the publicity and promotion for the CLiPPA, the UK’s leading annual award for published poetry for children. Put it all together, and that’s a lot of judging sessions observed, and a great deal of applauding, not to mention lots of opportunities to ponder who prizes are for, and what they can do.
The Newbery anniversary has sparked debate around the list of winners and not all of its 100 winning books are recommended reading for today. Times change, taste and sensibilities with them of course, but it’s true too that anyone who’s participated in an award will be conscious of excellent nominees who, because of some one thing, failed to make the final list. Then too, if there can only be one winner, surely there must be four or five disappointed shortlistees too.
Well, no. Because to see a prize as only being about its winner really misses the point. As an expert, here are five glorious things I’ve realised are true of all prizes.
- The judges. Every literary prize I’ve ever observed (and this is particularly true of the CLiPPA) had as its panel of judges a group of informed, enthusiastic and engaged people, ready to share their opinions honestly, to listen to their fellow judges, and to determine the very best qualities in each collection they were considering.
- That excitement and passion is then shared with the public, bringing a whole new audience to books, poetry collections and poems that they would not otherwise have discovered.
- The best shortlists – and again, this is particularly true of the CLiPPA but it’s also true of the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prizes – do more than just showcase what is on the list. They highlight exactly what is happening in the field at the time, new and important developments, what is exciting the best practitioners of the moment. How cheering it is for example to see Manjeet Mann’s verse novel The Crossing on the shortlist for this year’s Costa Book Award, and then to see it win the category – the first time in the award’s history that the children’s prize has gone to a verse novel.
- No matter how often we think that surely everything there is to say or think has been said, thought or described, prizes put the spotlight on new and original work, reminding us all of the boundless capacity of human imagination.
- And finally, the celebrations are for everyone. Michael Rosen was named winner of the 2021 CLiPPA but on the day of the announcement, didn’t it feel as though everyone was talking about children’s poetry? How glorious was that!
Even as I write this, submissions are coming in for the 2022 CLiPPA – publishers, there’s still time if you have yet to put your books forward – and entries are also pouring in for the much-loved CLiPPA Shadowing, the scheme that prompts poetry performances in schools up and down the country. I can’t wait to share the announcement of this year’s shortlist and the celebrations of the very best new poetry books for children.
Andrea Reece is Managing Editor of Books for Keeps and reviews editor for Lovereading4Kids. She’s also director of the Children’s Programme for the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. As administrator and publicist for prizes the CLiPPA, Branford Boase Award and Klaus Flugge Prize, she knows how to keep a secret and enforce an embargo.