Young Calibre Non-Prize 28 Comments

A little birdie tells me that the Young Calibre Prize, run by the Australian Book Review and sponsored by CAL, has been awarded to no-one. Having received almost 100 submissions, the judges decided that while some of the entries achieved some of the things they were looking for, none of them were of a high enough quality for them to declare a winner. They suggested that in making this decision they were very aware of their responsibilities to their readers, their magazine’s reputation, the intentions of their sponsor and the various, unsuccessful entrants.

What do we think about this?

UPDATE: Apologies, I should have mentioned to begin with that ABR will be running the prize again. Details of the second Young Calibre Prize will be advertised in their July-August issue.

  • Mif

    No one?
    And yet we have had young writers in the past such as Sonya Hartnett and Alexandra Adornetto, Markus Zuzak, Jack Heath, etc.
    No one?!

  • Krissy Kneen

    Is it just me or do I sense a trend of non-prize giving. Last years Qld Premier’s Literary Award left a very worthy shortlist hanging. I don’t believe it is because the quality of the work is poor. I just think sometimes judging panels just can’t agree on the winner. There is a good lesson to be learned here. Look to the shortlist not the winner. Sometimes the winner is the one that all the judges can compromise on, the shortlist is the true list of books that the individual judges are passionate about.

  • Sam Cooney

    fucking horseshit. that’s what i think.

    i wonder about the average age of those judges. this is why we need transparency in judging panels, something people at Meanjin and myself and many others have been pushing for a while. Australia has this thing of keeping secrets – judges aren’t allowed to comment individually, shortlisted authors are given minimal feedback as to why they won or lost, and the greater audience are simply shoved the end result – a mediocre media release and some golden stickers on the book’s cover.

  • phill

    What a rip. :/ I would really like to see some sort commentary or discussion with the judges beyond the vague ‘they didn’t quite get it right’ that will no doubt be in the official press release, but that’s probably wishful thinking.

  • Jenna Sten

    This is too wanky for words.

  • Fenwick

    i can’t believe my essay linking Nazi’s Germany with Apple’s America didn’t win.

    maybe it’s because i’m 87 years old.

  • Ben

    I agree. I sent an email through the the judges – below; it’ll be interesting to see how they respond (if at all). I think it’s important that people write through and express their disappointment.

    – the email –
    I was saddened to read of the judges’ decision to decline to award a prize for the inaugural Young Calibre. With respect, this is an extraordinary decision. It makes a significant statement about the Review’s commitment to, and faith in, the emerging generation of contributors to Australian letters. It also makes a significant statement about the publication’s opinions of the many university and high school teachers who were encouraged to have their students enter the competition, and to work with them to produce essays of a high standard.
    I acknowledge the likelihood that the Young Calibre essays were less polished than those submitted for Calibre itself. This is to be expected of entries in a prize for young people, who have less experience of writing for publication. As you mention, however, the Review has never before declined to award a prize in any of its ten years of running competitions. To do so now, in a competition’s inaugural year – and, in particular, to assert that all the essays were seriously lacking in some key respect – casts serious doubt on the aims and objectives of the prize. It also seems unjust, when the Review dedicates itself to advancing cultural discussion and debate, and is willing to publish and stand behind papers on controversial topics (as this year’s Calibre essays demonstrate), for it to assert that its reputation or the respect of its readers might be damaged by the publication of a young person’s ideas.
    The relative dearth of publishing opportunities for young people in Australia, particularly in publications of regard like the Review, made the prize an appealing one, and appeared to make a positive statement about an important publication’s willingness to stand behind the emerging generation of Australian writers and cultural figures. I’m sure many of the entrants are young people studying at high schools, or at universities, like myself, and were attracted to the prize by this apparent willingness to give young people a voice for their ideas. I’m sure many of them did significant research for their papers, and are now deeply disappointed – as am I – that none among their number will be recognised.
    Rather than simply declining to award the prize, I urge you to consider alternatives. Would it be possible to approach the shortlisted authors, explain the problem, provide a new, more detailed set of criteria, and give them a short deadline in which to re-work and resubmit their essays for reconsideration? Or to approach the author of the best essay, and advise that their paper was of high merit, but unpublishable in its current form, and work with them to edit it to a point that met the Review’s standards? Alternatively, releasing the shortlist, and/or providing feedback to the shortlisted entrants about how their entries worked well and how they could be improved, seem like better options than simply declining to award a prize.

    • Sam Cooney

      this is amazingly thoughtful and concise. bravo. (i’m not sure how you managed to avoid profanities, but you did, so well done.)

      please keep us updated if/when you get a response.

    • phill

      Yeap, I agree with Sam, great work.

  • Jodie

    The whole personal essay thing seems to be a really slippery concept. Everybody wants more of it but nobody’s that confident about really pinning down what they mean when they say it. I honestly think it’s a really tricky genre to get just right. Mostly because we don’t really know what to expect going in. Of course that’s also the excitement of it.

    My first reaction was that it must have been a really hard decision to not award it, made after much debate. But after more thought that just doesn’t seem right. A bit of vision and the judges must have been able to find an amazing story that could be polished up with a decent editorial process.

  • Susan B

    I’m interested to hear how ABR is responding to this. Presumably they appointed a panel of judges who they deemed worthy & capable of awarding the prize. Now instead of the award garnering the publication esteem within the wider literary community it’s made them look ineffective. Which is a shame since the intentions behind the award were sound (even though I object to the notion of artistic awards on the whole) such as supporting young writers in Australia etc.

    I agree with Sam that more transparency is needed in judging panels’ decisions however publishing the names of judges would I think stop people from wanting to participate in them. Who would want some jilted writer emailing them extolling the virtues of their failed submission? Not I.

    • Johannes Jakob

      The judges were Peter Rose and Mark Gomes, editor and assistant editor of ABR respectively. Not sure if this was advertised during the competition, but I don’t think it’s necessarily secret.

      (Will write a proper comment on all this later when I have a bit more time.)

      • Susan B

        Ahhh. So they were judging the prize themselves? Perhaps a slip in judgment there, but I think I’ll withhold commenting any further Jo.

  • Bel Schenk

    This is obviously disappointing from the perspective of our community. Ben, I am interested to see what the response to your letter is.

    In the meantime, hopefully there is an official word from them soon. Some kind of press release or something that explains further.

  • RBS

    Perhaps re-opening for submissions might be an option – or would doing that catalyst a collection of discerning articles about meeting deadlines, defeating the principal of the non-award, and ungrateful/apathetic young writers?

  • Johannes Jakob

    I have to say I’m kind of sympathetic to both sides here. I agree with Ben’s considered letter. All of his points are valid and important. I’m sure it was a difficult decision for the judges, who wouldn’t have taken it lightly or failed to expect a response like this. I’d imagine that there were a lot of complicating circumstances and things they had to take into account, even though I find it difficult to imagine finding nothing at all with enough merit.

    But so while I share everyone else’s disappointment, obviously this wasn’t ABR’s preferred outcome either. They’ve continued to show some faith in young writers in running the prize again, and I can only hope they take on board some of the things people have mentioned here, especially with regard to how to approach work from young writers and the possibility of working with them on the piece they’ve submitted.

  • Madeleine

    Somehow, receiving an email that basically said ‘sorry, none of you made the cut’ felt way, way worse than a straight-up rejection. (At least, it did from this young writer who is still far from being jaded.)

  • Ryan

    I think I support the decision. I’m going to make a case for that over at my blog – hopefully some of you will swing by to push and pull at it, see if it stands up.

  • Felice

    Why should a prize be awarded just because it was up for grabs? This is kind of like a teacher failing an entire class of pupils, is it not? If no-one meets the requirements, should they lower their expectations or ask the entrants for more? They are re-running the prize and giving young writer another opportunity to rework their stuff – it’s not as though they have revoked the prize completely and directed those resources back towards established writers. Take it for what it is: a challenge. Don’t fold, just rise.

    • Ryan

      Well said, Felice.

  • Pingback: Why Pulling Prizes Is Okay Sometimes | Socratic Ignorance is Bliss()

    • Ryan

      Wow, your pingbacks are fast! Pyew pyew, like a laser!

  • Liam Wood

    Ryan’s blog post makes some very valid points. No-one is advantaged by a culture of mediocrity. I’m certain there were some very strong entries into that competition and I really hope the editors at ABR are privately contacting shortlisted applicants and giving them the feedback they deserve for their work. If this is not happening then that is something people could justifiably be very critical of but we are not to know. It would be a service to ABR and (based on the comments above) to all entrants and the community if they were to deliver another press release and somehow explain further/detail if or how they are providing feedback to strong applicants. Otherwise the entire process seems somewhat of a waste. It’s not uncommon for novels that are shortlisted for unpublished manuscript prizes to eventually find publication through the feedback and/or connections of a judge who appreciated their work. I really do hope some of those Young Calibre essays re-emerge in publication but if none were fit to win the prize then, as disappointing as it is, perhaps it is best that none were chosen.

    One thing I would suggest to disgruntled Calibre prize entrants is download our pitch document from the Voiceworks website and pitch the essay to us. We are always looking for high quality non-fiction and our editorial process means we can be more accepting than prize judging panels. Be quick, our pitch deadline is rapidly approaching.

  • Maddie

    Nice plug Liam!

  • Bel M

    I’m with Felice on this one. Publishing someone just because they’re young when you don’t believe in the work itself is utterly patronising and would get the prize off on the wrong foot. I sympathise with the editors, it’s a very difficult position to be in, and I’m surprised at the sense of entitlement out there. No one deserves to win a competition any more than anyone deserves to be published for merely submitting. And I don’t think anyone deserves feedback either. Yes, it’s a great thing when it happens – the more you invest in your writers, the more you’ll get out of them – but it has to be earned. No one else has seen the slush pile. I think it should be left to their editorial discretion how they best make that investment.

    • Sam Cooney

      I too sympathise with the editors, and I agree with you, Bel, that if they awarded and published a piece they didn’t believe in, then this is bad for all involved.

      Maybe the judging panel/editors were not 100% suited to this prize? Could they be reading with eyes that are used to established/older writers; would younger writers have to write in a certain way, or about certain topics, to fit the mould?

      • phill

        They’re rerunning the prize, so perhaps the best thing they could do is release some kind of instructional pamphlet illustrating the areas in which the writing fell down? Give those that did submit a chance to aim their writing (if that’s what’s needed for the prize to be awarded) in the right direction.

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