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A list of the most important English-language awards in literature. All of these are awarded anually.

Pulitzer Prize
Nobel Prize in Literature

Preface: I was recently contacted by a PhD student in Ireland who is doing her dissertation on how literary prizes are perceived by and affect authors.  These are my answers to the questions she asked me.

In what way(s) has winning a literary award(s) changed your life?

It has changed my life in mostly small ways. I was asked to be a featured author at a large book festival because of the award, and I have been invited more frequently to submit my work to anthologies and magazines. My profile as an author is a bit higher than it would have been otherwise. Personally, it has given me a better sense of validation.

Do prizes motivate you to write?

I am certainly happy when I win a prize, but the unpredictable prospect of winning one is not a primary motivator for me. I have a fundamental need to write, and past that my writing is a necessary source of income for me; I also have a personal desire to write as well as I can whether I stand to win an award or not.

What, for you, are the positives of literary prizes?

They're a validation of the quality of your work, which can be a real confidence booster, and they raise awareness of the work and your profile as an author a little to a lot, depending on the prize and its publicity value. Prizes generally lead to invitations for speaking appearances and invitations to write for projects. And sometimes there's a bit of money included with the prize, and that's a positive for most any working writer.

What, for you, are the negatives of literary prizes?

Some people (readers, editors, etc.) are biased against some literary awards, for whatever reason, and they will scorn the authors that win them. And sometimes a work wins an award and eclipses other works that are arguably better and more worthy of attention from a wide audience.

What do you think is the difference between the exercise of one’s literary taste and the exercise of one’s literary judgement?

I can like a work and know that it's not written particularly well; conversely, I can judge a piece to be of excellent literary quality, but find it not to my taste.

As a consumer, are you influenced by the appearance of prize labels on books when making your literary choices?

Sometimes. A prize is often but not always an indicator of special quality; the book would ultimately still need to be something I was interested in due to the topic, or writer, or genre.

Do you think that prizes are important and provide a reflection of the "best" that the literary world has to offer?

I think that they are important for the reasons described above, and they do attempt to elevate the "best" writing for wider public consumption. Unfortunately, they often they result in high-profile authors being rewarded because their works are familiar to judges and award voters; meanwhile, more worthy but obscure works languish.

Richard Greener once said "Writing is not a competitive or comparative endeavour". Please respond.

The writing process is not a competitive or comparative endeavour. Once a piece of writing is sent out into the world for public consumption, though, it must compete for limited space within the pages of anthologies, in the schedules of publishers, and on the shelves of bookstores. And once the writing is published, it will inevitably be compared to other works by professional critics and readers.

Do you think a judge's anxieties about their own reputation and professional identity can affect the choice of a winner?

Absolutely. Often, a judge will be reluctant to offer an award to a writer with a reputation for writing work that is substandard or unserious, even if the present work under consideration is excellent. Regrettably, many female and minority authors carry around the reputation for writing unexceptional, non-serious work simply by virtue of their ovaries and the colour of their skins.

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