With the DSC literature prize all set to be announced at Dhaka this Saturday, the judges say they kept the process simple: a compelling story, very good writing, exceptional talent and strong characterisation and had no bad tempers, walk-outs or concealing of interests.
Jury chair Ritu Menon says the process followed by the international jury was one of consultation and consensus throughout.
Besides eminent writer Menon, other members of the jury are Valentine Cunningham, Professor Emeritus at Oxford University; US-based Steven Bernstein, screenwriter, director, author, cinematographer and lecturer; television broadcaster Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, based in London; and Senath Walter Perera of the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.
"Members of the jury read the 60 plus novels submitted over a period of three months, and sent in their initial recommendations for the longlist. These were then discussed by the jury as a whole, and the 13 longlisted titles selected, with each member casting their individual vote in an open process. The shortlist (of five), announced in September, was decided in the same manner," Menon told PTI.
Despite the diversity in their backgrounds and reading contexts, the exchanges and sharing of views were remarkably cordial, with each juror commenting on the novels selected in detail, and from their perspectives, she says.
"As experienced readers and, in some cases, jurors, our criteria for judging were simple: a compelling story; very good writing; exceptional talent; strong characterisation. Clear literary merit, obviously. The fact that we were able to agree on the long and shortlisted titles unanimously is a tribute to both the process, as well as to the quality of novels submitted," she says.
According to Cunningham, the process of selecting the longlist and then the shortlist worked well.
"The longlist was arrived by long-distance email communication between the judges scattered across the globe! Chairperson managed this part very judiciously, I thought. The shortlist was arrived when the jury met in the flesh in London," he says.
"Again discussion ably mastered or mistressed by the chair. Not a lot of disagreement; amicable agreements and disagreements. Nothing out of the normal for such these meetings. No bad tempers, no walk-outs, nobody concealing interests: all of which are known occasionally to occur!" he goes on to add.
The short-listed five were the agreed quintet of the jury, Cunningham says.
"As is normal, not every member of the jury was equally enthusiastic for all five, and equally normally there were certain fictions that some jurists regretted not getting on the shortlist. But this is committee work and the practice is, as here, for the jury to accept majority voting. And to agree that the shortlist finally arrived at has due merit," he says. The five shortlisted books are each different from each other, with different qualities, but all are considerably abled fictions, Cunningham says.
Perera says communications among the jury were usually effected by the chair and carried out as and when necessary. "Once the judges were formally introduced to each other by the DSC administrators, the chair of the panel informed the panelists of the manner in which she wanted to set up the process and asked if the panelists had any other views on the matter or suggestions so that the process could be further improved," he tells about the judging process.
"As it transpired, all panelists agreed with her plan. A deadline was given for the judges to come up with individual lists. Contact among the judges become more frequent just before the long-listing until consensus was reached. The process was the same just before the shortlisting and at present when jurors are going through the shortlisted entries to pick a winner," Perera says.
The most striking feature on the judging process, according to Perera, was how judges from different backgrounds and cultures, living in different locales, and no doubt subscribing to diverse ideologies in their personal and professional lives were able to arrive at a long list and shortlist without even minor disagreements.
"That was one of the 'interesting aspects when comparing the judging of this DSC prize with some others I have been involved in," he says.
The five novels in the race for the DSC prize are Anjali Josephs "The Living", "The Story of a Brief Marriage" by Anuk Arudpragasam, Aravind Adigas "Selection Day", Karan Mahajans "The Association of Small Bombs" and "In the Jungles of the Night" by Stephen Alter.
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