Sunday, 8 September 2019

Carnegie changes, by Keren David

How do you decide which book is worthy of the prestigious Carnegie Medal, awarded every year by librarians to celebrate outstanding writing? This week it was announced that the judging criteria for the award have been revised.
The new guidelines, reported The Bookseller, should create a “more inclusive, child-focused” judging process, and include a partnership with Inclusive Minds, a charity which promotes diversity in children’s literature.

“Following a consultation, new criteria for the CILIP Carnegie Medal for writing will ask judges to reflect on experiences and representation within each nominated book, the author’s treatment of characters and plot, and the book’s relatability to its readership,” said The Bookseller’s report. 
“Jake Hope, chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Working Party, explained: ‘We hope our new criteria will facilitate open consideration and discussion both by judges and shadowing groups as they read the books in contention for the medals, and lead to lists of titles that reflect the broad range of perspectives, experiences and voices encompassed by our readers.’"
My reaction – as an author, and also as someone from a minority community – is to applaud this initiative, which is long overdue. It’s not easy to accept criticism and act on it, and this is just what CILIP have done.

 But I also wonder how it will work in practice. Will this make a difference in the books that publishers commission and that children read? Will we see more British writers from marginalised backgrounds published, or will the Carnegie be a celebration of the best of American children’s writing?

Will the judges recognise that diversity means a consideration of diverse readers as well as diverse subject matter and authors? There can be a very big difference between the books written ‘about’ a minority community and those written for them.   And will they think about books which about and for working class British children who may not be from a minority group, but are certainly marginalised.
I welcome the attempts to make the Carnegie more inclusive. I’d love to see the reforms go even further, perhaps with different awards for different age groups, and some way of celebrating different genres and also something solely for British writers. We should have more celebrating, not less, and librarians are wonderful in their support for all kinds of readers and writers in ways that reach out far beyond one award.

But, for my own peace of mind, I won’t hold my breath for anything very much to change. I've come to the conclusion that it's unhealthy for writers to worry too much about awards and how they are judged. 

I’ll just carry on writing my diverse books, for my diverse readers, just as I have been for the last 10 years.


Rowena House said...

It is hard to know how well-intentioned initiatives will work out in practice. Like you, I applaud the impetus behind it, but in any collective decision-making process there is always a danger of group-think and political correctness. I also agree with you that a British focus would be very welcome indeed. And if USA writers are included, how about a translated category too? Cultural diversity should embrace different world perspectives as well as class and ethnicity, imho.

Jake Hope said...

It's great to read this blog Keren and your thoughtful consideration. The question that both you and Rowena pose around how this will work in practice is an important one and is the reason why it feels key to pilot the criteria this cycle, giving opportunities for judges and stakeholders of the award alike to feedback opinions as well as the chance to recognise any strengths and weaknesses.

As a point of note, translated titles are able to be nominated for both the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals and the comment about cultural diversity stretching towards and embracing a range of world perspectives feels apposite.

Rowena House said...

That's great to hear about translated titles, Jake. I'd missed the memo!