The Dangdai Literary Prize
By Eric Abrahamsen, published
This morning was the press conference for the Dangdai literary magazine's fifth annual best novel award. Dangdai, which is run by the People's Literature Publishing House, is trying to turn this prize into a bit of a challenge to the hegemony of the bigger prizes administered by the Writers Association: the editor of Dangdai, Yang Xinlan, specifically touted this prize as the non-governmental answer to the Mao Dun prize.
Every literary prize and its brother is touting "transparency" and "fairness" these days, but the Dangdai prize might get a little closer to that goal than most: there is no cash for the winner, reducing some of the incentive for backdoor dealing, and to hear Yang talk, the judges were left unmolested during the nomination process. She even described them as being slightly taken aback when the magazine had no "directives" or even gentle hints as to which direction they should cast their votes — if this is true, it speaks as well for the Dangdai prize as it does poorly for the other prizes.
There were two parts to today's event, which was attended mostly by publishers and literary magazine type folks: 2008's best novel award, and also a sort of grand prize given to one of the winners from the past five years. The panel of judges was as follows:
- Bai Ye (白烨)
- Li Jingze (李敬泽)
- Chen Xiaoming (陈晓明)
- Meng Fanhua (孟繁华)
- Zhang Yiwu (张颐武)
- Yan Jingming (阎晶明)
- Lei Da (雷达)
And the 2008 winners (the readers pick came mostly from voting on Sina.com):
- Judge's Pick: Bi Feiyu's Tuina (推拿)
- Reader's Pick: Yang Zhizhun's Tibetan Mastiff 3 (藏獒3)
The results of the five-year grand prize (voted on, oddly enough, by those who happened to be present in the room at the time — I very nearly voted myself) were a resounding win for Wang Gang's Yinggelishi (英格力士), the English translation of which is coming out in spring of 2009.
Update: I don't know how I messed that up: it was actually Yan Geling's Xiao yi duo he (小姨多鹤) that won in an elimination-round upset, as is clearly indicated by the ping-pong balls in the tubes in the photo above. Thanks to zhwj, who was also present and apparently awake, for the correction.
Update 2: That night I ended up at dinner with someone from the Writers Press (作家出版社) and listened to a long litany of complaint about this prize: the magazine belongs to the People's Literature Publishing House, and apparently they stacked the voting deck by inviting a small army of their own editors, but only one or two from other publishing houses (for instance, the Writers Press). She was highly dismissive of the prize, and regardless of how much of that was sour grapes, it still cast a shadow on the whole thing…
An unrelated but amusing anecdote from the same editor: she had just returned from a meeting in Guangdong arranged by the provincial-level Writers Association. Apparently the Writers Association in Guangdong has an impressive budget which they'd failed to expend before year's end, and so they invited writers and editors from all over the country to visit Guangdong for a couple of days, eat expensive food, and "have a meeting". Attendance came with a 10,000 rmb thank-you prize. "It was very boring", she said.