Figure this: If you add the populations of North America, Western Europe and all African countries, the figure you get will still be less than the population of Asia, not counting the people of China and India. In short, Asia is where most people live.
But a look at leading book awards is puzzling. You need a US passport to win the Pulitzer, or a British or Commonwealth passport to win the Man Booker, some of the biggest literary awards in the world.
The good people at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Association, aka AP Writers, realise that talent isn't confined to a nationality. They have thus decided to institute a World Readers’ Award, an award that won't consider the writer's nationality at all. The award will be judged by “readers” — typically people associated with literature but not “professors of literature”.
The award will have themes like “East meets West” or “the Indian subcontinent” that will will change every year.
“We are still defining who our readers will be but how it works is thus: People from the book industry will receive the entries and sort them out, and then send them to the readers judging panel, who will create a shortlist and then choose a final winner,” says Nury Vittachi, 54, the chair of AP Writers.
The organisers want to highlight the fact that global literature doesn't only need to be confined to the “home territories” of the US and the UK. “There are some incredibly bright, creative people in India and other parts of Asia who just don’t get a chance to get on the world stage. The system is set up to disadvantage them. That’s why the system needs to be changed,” says Vittachi, a Sri Lankan who writes detective novels and now lives in Hong Kong. “For much of human history, Asia has been the most creative part of the world. Yet if you look at any list of 100 best books, there are almost no Asians on that list,” he adds.
The award is still in its baby steps — talks are still on with publishers and the rule book is still being written. To start with, entries will be limited to fiction for adults but there are plans to expand (a Young Writer's award may be instituted in the next two to three years.) Entries will be limited to unpublished stories and the winning entry will be published as a book and an ebook. The award is aimed at popular writing for buyers of popular books. The way they see it: everyone wins — the author, the publisher and the booksellers.
Also, in an extraordinary move, the readers on the judges panel will be given “blind” stories with no names attached so they won't be tempted to choose writers because of their fame.
A formal announcement will be made in October 2013 at a summit of Asia Pacific writers and translators in Thailand.
For more details, check http://mrjam.typepad.com/world_readers_award/